No penalty fixed on violators as Sonamarg turns into concrete jungle

Illegal construction in famous tourist resort of Sonamarg. -Excelsior/Shakeel.
Illegal construction in famous tourist resort of Sonamarg. -Excelsior/Shakeel.

Adil Lateef
SRINAGAR, July 25: As unabated illegal and unauthorized structures threaten ecology of Sonamarg meadows in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, the State Government has failed to fix any penalty on scores of violators who without any building permissions have resorted to constructions since 2012.
Sonamarg, which is located on the banks of Sindh River in the foothills of Zojila Pass, presents a grim picture as scores of structures have defaced the natural outlook of the tourist resort. The structures have mainly come up on the banks of Sindh River, which is one of the most important sources of fresh drinking water to lakhs of souls in Ganderbal and Srinagar districts.
The unabated concrete structures in the Sonamarg mainly came since 2012 and the authorities watched as mute spectators. Not only random permissions were issued for constructions but structures without any permission were also constructed. “There are 46-47 structures that have come up without permission. They are gross violators,” said Qazi Sarwar, who is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sonamarg Development Authority. A Government enquiry report, however, found 150 structures illegal last year.
He said that he has submitted a detailed report to the Government on illegal constructions. Asked whether they would demolish illegal structures that have come up without any permission in Sonamarg, the CEO said: “With regard to the violators, the Government Administrative Department was supposed to fix penalty on them but it has not been done so far and it is under process.”
Few years ago, an inquiry into Sonamarg illegal constructions was ordered by then Government after Governor,         N N Vohra, expressed his concern over Sonamarg meadows being turned into concrete jungle. But no concrete action has been taken so far against the violators. “Only few structures so far have been demolished but it is highly unlikely that any further demolition would be carried out,” said an official source.
The CEO Qazi Sarwar said that there is ban on new constructions in Sonamarg and they are ensuring that it is implemented strictly. “I took over as CEO last year and we are ensuring that the ban is implemented strictly and nobody violates it. We admit that there have been rampant constructions since 2012,” he said, adding that they are now thrusting on camping sites to save environment from degradation.
“We are giving permission for camping sites in Sonamarg,” said Sarwar. The senior GDA official said that they are awaiting report of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) from Kashmir University. He said that EIA is mandatory to assess likely environmental impacts of tourist flow and development of tourism related infrastructure and recommend measures for minimizing its effects on the environment. The delay in the report is taking heavy toll on the fragile environment of the Sonamarg.
The huge rush of visitors to Sonamarg is also severely affecting the Sonamarg environs and ironically the private as well as passenger cabs are allowed until the foothills of Thajwas Glacier which is fast melting. “We are fast losing the Sonamarg and Government is not making any serious effort to save the environment of this beautiful place. While we have rampant constructions on one side, the heavy flow of vehicles and visitors including pilgrims’ is severely affecting its ecology,” said an elderly man working in a dhaba at Sonamarg.