PAHALGAM: Encompassed by thickly lush pine forests, stunning springs and the snow-capped Himalayan mountains, the Pahalgam constituency is considered as the tourist capital of the Valley which attracts thousands of visitors every year. While all the attention goes to the beauty of the area, the residents felt ignored on the development front as they continue to battle with civic woes- poor healthcare, irregular water supply, shabby roads and inadequate educational facilities.
The constituency is spread over a hundred villages with a voter base of little over 80,000. The constituency is a part of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district and has a literacy rate of over 60 percent. It has been represented by people’s Democratic Party twice in the past. However, in 2014 Assembly elections Jammu and Kashmir’s National Conference won the seat after its candidate Altaf Ahmad Mir defeated PDP’s Rafi Ahmad Wani by 1000 votes. The locals, however, blamed that the change of Government has not changed their fortunes.
Although the notified area of Pahalgam witnessed some development, but majority of the pockets lacked the amenities. The main roads leading to the constituency hasn’t been macadamized for last one decade and many interior localities also lacked proper connectivity. The residents are not happy with the quality of drinking water that they receive from the local water bodies. The locals also complained that the health care facilities on the fringes are far from satisfactory.
Residents held the Government’s failure to complete many key projects responsible for the under-development of the area. Development projects like construction of Sub District Hospital at Pahalgam, roads, Tourist Reception Centre and Water Supply Schemes that were started for the upliftment of the constituency remained incomplete. The resentment against the government is pretty obvious across the whole constituency. “None of the MLAs has ever cared to solve our problems. Nothing has ever been done for the uplift of our localities. The whole constituency has a dearth of drinking water. Healthcare is dismal and road connectivity deplorable,” Ali Mohammad, a resident from Pahalgam town said.
The facilities of health and education are in demand among the people and the provision of these facilities tops peoples list of priorities.
Major roads like Anantnag – Pahalgam, Seer -Pahalgam that connect the area to the rest of the Valley have not been repaired for last one decade and the scruffy surfaces are causing inconvenience to the commuters. Moreover, a huge chunk of the population that lives in the upper reaches of the region lacks all-weather road connectivity.
The locals complained that apart from the Sallar area, which is the native village of the former MLA Rafi Ahmad Mir, the interior roads of the entire constituency are in dilapidated condition. “We have been demanding macadamization of our approach road but have been denied the facility,” Aijaz Ahmad, a resident of nearby Kollar area said.
People at Pahalgam Town, which is considered as the crown of the constituency, complained about the lack of healthcare facilities. They said five years have passed since the central government announced the construction of a sub-district hospital in the area but authorities have failed to deliver. “The administration has not been able to find land for the construction of the hospital which showed their seriousness towards the health care facilities,” Bilal Ahmad, a local said.
Pahalgam is believed to be the most favored hill station in Kashmir and lakhs of tourists irked by the scorching summer heat find refuge here. Apart from this, over five lakh Hindu devotes use Pahalgam as a stopover (Base Camp) for their annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave. The Pilgrims trek through the difficult mountainous terrains to reach Amarnath. The dangerous paths leading to the cave claim lives of several people due to lack of timely health services.
The residents from various hamlets including Dachnipora, Khovripora, Ganchippora and Yenar alleged that every year right after the commencement of the Amarnath Yatra the doctors and paramedical Staff also leave the place thereby leaving the people at the mercy of God. “About 3000 people are dependent on the single Primary Health Centre which is presently operating in Pahalgam. With inadequate health care facilities, more than a hundred people travel to either nearby District Hospital Anantnag or other hospitals on daily basis. By this the poor patients have to bear huge traveling costs”, Mushtaq Ahmad, a local said.
On Bijbehara- Pahalgam road at a tiny hamlet, Wularhma, people complained that the illness related to Hepatitis C has grown to an alarming rate for the last few months. In the month of July this year, at least 15o people were found positive for the disease during a screening drive of the state’s health department. However, apart from a couple of awareness and screening camps, nothing has been done to stop the disease from spreading. The locals complained that despite the presence of deadly infection the health service of the area has not been upgraded. The areas have been provided a sub-centre where a single nurse is responsible to provide healthcare to the people of the area, locals rued.
Out of the numerous tourist places in Kashmir, Pahalgam witnessed the most number of tourists every year. Also known as the valley of shepherds, the scenic beauty has been captured in several Bollywood movies. However, Pahalgam is slowly turning into a concrete jungle and wanton construction of hotels has ravaged its virgin environs.
To stop this ecological onslaught from the violators the High Court in 2011 directed the authorities to revise the master plan after finding the earlier one (2005-2025) was flawed and prepared with malafide interests. The revised masterplan was approved by Cabinet headed by Late Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed but even after the passage of more than two years, the authorities have failed to implement it.
Inordinate delay in the implementations of “Pahalgam Master Plan 2032” has encouraged the illegal construction which has ravaged the ecologically fragile meadows of Pahalgam.
However, locals alleged that Government’s failure to implement the revised Master plan is giving free hand to the violators who have raised several illegal structures across the tourist place. Not only this, the residents said, violators have also completed the pending structural works on the existing structures wherein construction work had been stopped by the High court. “The authorities are deliberately turning a blind eye to these violators who raise hotels and other commercial establishments,” Mohammad Amin said, adding the authorities only stop locals who either built their homes or renovate the damaged ones.
Over the years places like Mavoora have witnessed mushrooming of more than hundred structures and the works which were stopped by the court to avoid further vandalization of this scenic spot had been completed for past two years.
Locals also said the interior hamlets of Pahalgam like Mavoora and Yenar, people with political lineage have illegally constructed hotels and commercial complexes. At places like Susiran which is wildlife range a considerable part of woods has been denudated thereby posing a threat to the sustainable development of the area, the locals said.
The people across the constituency are facing a dearth of drinking water and half a dozen water supply schemes are incomplete due to lack of funds. The locals from several areas said that in absence of these water supply schemes they are forced to fetch water from streams and consume contaminated water.
“People here have to collect untreated water from the local streams and that is putting the locals vulnerable to water-borne diseases, ” Altaf Ahmad, a local from Ashwal area said, adding every year outbreak of waterborne diseases is reported from South Kashmir and the incomplete projects bear testimony to the fact that government is least bothered about the health of locals.
The locals also lamented that they have repeatedly protested against the lack of clean potable water in their areas but their pleas went unheard. “We are waiting for the completion of the project for the last 5 years and despite missing multiple deadlines the project stands incomplete. We have no water to drink and authorities are unmoved”, Ghulam Nabi, a local from Dashnipora area said, adding that the poorly filtered water has taken a toll on their health.
Former Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Pahalgam, Altaf Ahmad Wani, who represented National Conference party listed a series of projects that, he said, were done by his Government. He said the upgradation of Seer, Hapatnar-Ashmuqam road and Seer-Pahalgam road was underway.
Regarding the deficiency of water supply in the area, he said the work on the two major water supply schemes – Dachnipora and Khovripora – is underway and one scheme at Wadbal Ashmiqam has been recently inaugurated.
Asked about the health care, he said two Primary Health Centers have been constructed at Awoora in Hapatnar while as work is going on two newly constructed health centers at Ashmuqam. Besides, five ambulances have been donated to the health centers.