Sonwar lacks development, rehab of quarry workers major issue

Suhail Bhat
SONWAR: Sonwar constituency is considered as a strong bastion of National Conference but in 2014, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Mohammad Ashraf Mir won the segment by defeating the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by a margin of 4000 votes.
The constituency is facing multiple problems including broken roads and shabby or missing sewerage. Several localities also complained about the lack of proper public transport facilities.
The main roads leading to the constituency hasn’t been macadamized for four years and many interior localities also lack proper connectivity. Majority of the roads including a 10 kilometers stretch of National Highway from Sampoora to Dalgate are strewn with deep ditches and potholes, causing problems of commuting for thousands of commuters’ every day.
At the native area of the former MLA, Athawajn, residents said that he allegedly failed to rehabilitate thousands of workers and some 300 quarry owners affected by the ban of quarrying in the area. The ban was imposed due to ecological dangers of excessive mining in the area in 2016. They said that the has failed to rehabilitate them.
The quarry holders and workers lamented that the ban has snatched livelihood of thousands of people. “There are nearly 80,000 workers associated with the business directly or indirectly and the ban has affected the equal number of families,” Farooq Ahmad, a quarry owner told Excelsior.
Nazir Ahmad, another query owner said that the delay in the implementation of rehabilitation policy has hit them psychologically. “We are unable to pay a tuition fee of our kids and repay bank loans. This has dented our social image and lead to distress,” he said, adding that former MLA has failed to help us in rehabilitation.
Following the ban, Zewan area was identified for mining keeping in view the requirement of stones for construction purposes in Srinagar. However, the locals resented the move to shift quarrying work to Zewan. “We are already suffering due to the existing query units and by diverting more stone miners here they are putting the lives of more than 10,000 people at risk. Heavy blasting has made our lives miserable. Our Children and livestock are particularly in danger”, Riyaz Ahmad, a local from the area said, the move may have drastic effects on the forest cover and Dachigam National Park which houses several endangered species including indigenous stage, Hangul.
Residents said that at one hand environmental reasons are being cited for closure of query units, while on the other side environmental disaster is being invited by overlooking relentless emission of smoke from the cement factories. As per figures, these factories emit one lakh kilograms of toxic fumes per day thereby wrapping the neighborhood villages in a toxic grey shroud. The air pollution is blamed for a number of respiratory tract infections.
Locals said that these factories are running with pollution controlling devices which are inefficient and inadequate. “There are no in-situ monitoring devices installed in these factories so that the particulate matter doesn’t get into the atmosphere,” they said.
“The cement factories are violating the Forest Act 1990 by operating under dense forest cover and flaunt the afforestation rules by not planting enough trees. They are shying away from their corporate social responsibility”, residents said.
Besides, locals said, there are nearly several unauthorized quarry units operating in Khonmoh which are looting the resources illegally and supplying it to these factories. These quarry units once used to be home of wildlife animals like dear, leopard, and bear, locals said.
An inordinate delay in the completion of a bridge at Pandrethan area of Srinagar has irked the residents of nearly half a dozen areas situated on both the sides of the river Jhelum.
The locals from Athwajan, Pandrethan, Batwara, Sonawar and other adjoining areas lamented lackadaisical approach towards the construction of the ‘vital connecting link’ and alleged indifferent attitude towards the people of the area. “In the absence of the bridge the locals are forced to walk several kilometers to reach to the other side of the embankment. The construction work on the bridge was started in 2009 and the people were promised that it shall complete in 2013 but even after the exceeding the deadline it is incomplete,” Abdul Majid, a local said.
Construction work on another bridge at Sampoora area is causing problems of commuting for thousands of people in the area.
The locals lamented that the construction work on a 140 meter bridge was stalled after an opposition leader visited their area in the month of March this year. “The construction work was stopped a few days after his visit. We approached the authorities concerned but they have nothing to say,” Mohammad Sidiq, a local from Seerbagh said, adding some of the officials, however, hinted towards political interference in the construction work.
“It is for the first time a bridge is being constructed near our village. We are facing difficulties due to the incomplete bridge. In absence of the bridge we are forced to board fishing boats to cross the Jhelum river”, said Sara Akhter, a resident of the area.
The locals said that bridge would have not only connected them to Srinagar- Jammu National Highway but also cut their traveling time to highway considerably.
The residents of the area said that the former MLA was apprised about the issues several times but not to avail.
Locals at Sonwar’s Hamza Colony in Srinagar are worried by drinking water quality to their area. The locals alleged that the callous approach of the department concerned towards this grave issue has put the lives of hundreds of residents at risk. “We told the former MLA about the issue but it remains unaddressed. An engineer visited the site but issued was not addressed, “Tahir Ahmad, a local said.
The residents also complained that faulty drainage near children’s hospital has made the area stinky. “The leakage from the sewerage pipes is causing problems to the people living nearby,” a local said.
The residents of the Zewan, Zawoora, and Khonmoh said that the excessive blasting and quarrying by the cement factories have to lead to degradation of the forest cover of the area. Besides, the extraction of rocks from the ecologically fragile hills is threating the eco-sensitive Dachigam National Park which houses many rare and endangered animals, including indigenous red deer species Hangul. “Lack of regulation has put the whole neighborhood vulnerable to an environmental catastrophe,” Gowher Ahmad, a local from Khonmoh area said.
A major part of the constituency resides on the banks of River Jhelum. However, continuous extraction of sand from Jhelum and continuous movement of vehicles to carry mined sand has damaged the embankments, putting the nearby areas vulnerable to floods. Besides, unabated lifting of sand has put extra pressure on the embankments and weakened their bases. Areas like Sampora, Athwajan and Pandrethan are worst affected. “We raised the issue with the former MLA but it was not addressed”, residents said.
The locals of several areas alleged that the miners carry out illegal mining in connivance of I&FC officials. “It is impossible to carry out mining and transport the material with such impunity without the help of officials,” a local said.
Locals said at several places the illegal digging have also caused destruction to the protection walls which were constructed by the Government to protect the river from eroding the embankment. ” The protection walls were constructed after the floods of 2014. They were constructed to support the weak embankments and minimize chances of a breach but rampant mining has also damaged them,” Yaseen Ahmad Rather, a local said, adding that a vast stretch of embankment collapsed due to excessive mining at the Lasjan area of Srinagar last year.
Commuters from different areas of the constituency said that non-availability of public transport during evening hours is a cause of covering among the people. Residents of Brein, Nishat, Shalimar, Harwan, Saffron Colony and Balhama complained that there is no public transport after 6 pm. Commuters on the route are seen stranded in evening hours, which forces them to foot long distances or hire auto-rickshaws.
Residents from Harwan said that if there are more than 300 Sumos which ply on the route during the day then why their movement is not monitored in the evening. Faisal Ahmad a student from Harwan said: “There is no transport in the evening hours which is causing immense inconveniences to commuters and students.”
This reporter contacted the former MLA several time but there was no response from him on the issues raised by the locals of the constituency.