Cement or Environment? Activists yell out final call

•Factories have encroached 1500 kanals of Charai Land where shepherds used to graze their cattle

•Khrew residents are experiencing various ailments like asthma, bronchitis, kidney disorders and other respiratory problems.

•According to the World Health organization, Khrew has more death rate than any other town in the district due to these poisonous gases.

•There are 211 quarry units functioning in Khrew area right now without proper authorization.

•Survival of the endangered Kashmir red deer, Hangul is under direct threat by Khrew cement factories

 

Srinagar: At present, approximately spread over on 450 kanals of land, seven cement factories are operational in Khrew area of Pampore district. These are posing a clear and present danger to the survival of flora and fauna as well as to human life. 

Khrew once a saffron bowl has morphed into a dust bowl because of the pollution emanating out from these cement factories.

JK cements, Tramboo cements, Cemtac cements, Arco Cements, Atifaq cements, TCI, Dawar and H.K cements all are running without proper pollution controlling devices. 

“These factories are firstly running without proper pollution controlling devices like they don’t have electrostatic bags or electrostatic precipitators as in other states of India,” Adil Rashid Bhat, an activist who is fighting against the unabated pollution in the area from last two years, said. “There are no in-situ monitoring devices installed in these factories so that the particulate matter doesn’t get escaped into the atmosphere.”

“These factories don’t care about the pollution they are spreading and down the line 5 to 10 years these factories wouldn’t survive themselves if they won’t check it out right now,” he said. “These factories are operating under dense forest cover which is against the Forest Act 1990.”

Adil said thatthese factories have to seek permission from the industries to extend their production but they are operating because of influence and power. 

Just on the opposite side, lies the world famous Dachigam wildlife sanctuary—home to the beleaguered Hangul, a deer specie closely related to the European Red Deer.

The survival of Hangul which is enlisted on the endangered species list depends on the maintenance of the Dachigam Park which is under a direct attack due to the cement factories operating on the other side of the hillock. 

 To rub further salt into the wounds, these factories have encroached 1500 kanals of Charai Land where shepherds used to graze their cattle. Crystal clear water used to flow in these streams and ponds below which is nowhere to be seen now.

“I have started this campaign last year in 2015 and for continuous ten days we launched a massive agitation against these cement factories,” Adil said. “Already we have filed a petition to Honourable High Court and also to State pollution Control Board to examine the unabated pollution emanating from these factories.”

The activist said cement factories are violating afforestration rule as per which, these must plant trees to lessen the pollution rate but they are doing otherwise by illegally increasing the mining activity.

“We have made clear that these factories are not making any effort to control the pollution and more importantly they have not adhered to the previous orders of High Court of J&K,” he said. “There is no demarcation. The main stake holders include Wildlife department, Forest Department, Geology and Mining department, state pollution department and Revenue department. These departments have not demarcated the land according to their rules which poses a question on their working.”

What is more alarming now is that they are illegally mining various stones, thus posing a threat to ecological diversity of the area, he added”.

As per Khrew Welfare Society, a population of 60,000 along with its livestock, agricultural land of almost 70 thousand canals, saffron land, water bodies, forests and wildlife has been seriously affected. The damage caused to human life is of great proportion as such people are experiencing various ailments like asthma, bronchitis, kidney disorders and other respiratory problems.

“Dust seems to have clouded our life forever,” said Athar Mohammad, a businessman from the Khrew area. “Our eatables, water, literally everything is covered in thick layers of dust.”

 Not long ago, he said Khrew used to be a wildlife sanctuary where kids used to come for recreation but due these cement factories, everything stands choked.

“Our agricultural produce has drastically decreased,” he said. “The produce of Kashmir saffron has gone down from 385 Kg to a mere 78 Kg.”

The irony is that on one hand government is promoting Saffron mission and on the other hand they are hell bent in destroying it. Thus, a biological as well as ecological genocide is going on,” he added.

The number of patients suffering from various respiratory diseases has also gone proportionally higher with the corresponding pollution. “From the last seven to eight years, respiratory diseases have risen considerably and most of the patients we receive are more from these areas,” a doctor at the Chest Disease Hospital, Dalgate said. “On an average, 15 patients from Pampore area visit the hospital on daily basis.”

According to the World Health organization, Khrew has more death rate than any other town in the district due to these poisonous gases. These factories emit 100,000 kilograms of toxic fumes, poisonous gases in the air. Lung disease is the main killer, second kidney failure and third heart disease; these poisonous gases were declared responsible according to the report.

Last year a team of 60 officials of wildlife Department led by Wildlife Warden Rouf Ahmed Zargar visited Khrew to inspect multiple quarry units supplying Lime stones and other ores to various cement factories which are operating illegally under forest norms. They were asked for authorization documents which are important for mining operations. There are 211 quarry units functioning in Khrew area right now without proper authorization.

Since then one year has passed but still these quarry units are illegally mining various stones to these cement factories which is very surprising and also shocking. “These dotted quarry units once used to be home of wild animals like Hangul, bear and leopard. But now it is all gone,” said Mushtaq Ahmed a local resident.

“Last year in the office of Deputy Commissioner, the agitation was called off on grounds that pollution will be controlled and for that they asked for three months time but so far nothing has been done. Since then eight months have already passed and government is yet to take any action,” said Ghulam Mohammad Mir, member of Khrew welfare Society.

In October a division bench of Chief Justice N Paul Vasanth Kumar and Justice Tashi Rabstan issued notice to the government on a public interest litigation seeking to prevent environmental pollution caused by cement plants in Khrew area of Pulwama district. The court directed state control Board to assess the level of pollution and submit the report within two months.

There is no demarcation. The main stake holders include Wildlife department, Forest Department, Geology and Mining department, state pollution department and Revenue department. These departments have not demarcated the land according to their rules which casts doubts on their working.

“These factories have devastated our green forestland, agriculture land which was our livelihood and now deforestation has become a daily routine. Continuous mining has adversely affected the habitat of wildlife and is posing a great threat to ecological balance. And also it is quite shocking that how authorities are giving them permission for mine blasting which is few miles away from residential areas,”  Said Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a member of Khrew Welfare Society.

Director of Pollution Control board Kashmir, Abdul Razzak said, “There is a definite need to have advanced machinery to control the pollution in these factories which right now there is none. Government must formulate a policy to scrutinize the level of pollution, so that environment as well as human life can be saved.

Despite the clear cut danger to human life and the fragile eco system, commercial interests are trumping over human and ecological ones; such is the callous disregard for life here. This, in the final analysis, constitutes both a tragedy and a travesty.

The activist Adil said that time has come to act firm against these factories: “It has to be now or never,” he said. “We have to think whether we need cement or our environment.”

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