Khrew Pampore, also known by the name Saffron Town is the only area in the valley producing superior quality saffron. This title, conferred to the town decades ago, is seriously being threatened by the rapidly degrading environment. Just a few kilometres from Srinagar, there is a hamlet which probably is well known for being the hub of pollution in the valley. This area, known as Khrew, of which I am an unfortunate resident, produces tons of dust per day.
There are about seven cement plants in Khrew and its adjoining areas which includes Barthen, Shar-Shali, Wuyan and Nagendar. It will be appropriate to call them dust plants rather than cement plants as they produce greater quantities of dust rather than cement. Khrew, present in south Kashmirs district Pulwama, is grossly polluted and enveloped by a layer of grey smoke produced every day by these plants. The town is surrounded by forests and these cement factories are situated dangerously close to these forests. You must have seen and heard of green forests, but have you ever heard about grey forests? Well, if you ever wish to see these forests, you are always welcome to visit my town. These forests should be included in the tourist spots of the valley because of their uniqueness. Beyond the forests lies the Dachigam National Park which is also being severely affected by these dust factories. Khrew and Pampore are the largest as well as the only saffron producing areas in the valley. With the advent of cement factories in the area, saffron production has been greatly affected and is diminishing day by day. Some saffron lands have even been converted into residential areas due to lesser produce. Recently, Government of Jammu and Kashmir started issuing warnings to stop conversion of saffron lands. Other agricultural productions like wheat, rice etc. have also been hit hard.
Undoubtedly the economy of the town is getting better but the health of the locals is getting severely affected. People are suffering from chest ailments and other dangerous diseases. No matter how much income is generated from cement factories, much more is being spent on medical expenses. Doctors working at Primary Health Centre Khrew report that patients from Khrew and its adjoining areas are prone to respiratory problems like asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis etc. All these ailments are caused due to air pollution. Curing such patients is also difficult as they are continuously inhaling dust. Respiratory diseases are shortening life spans and thus affecting the future generations as well.
Literacy rate, which was once about 84% in the area, has been greatly reduced. The present literacy rate of the town is about 30% and is mostly accounted for by girls. Boys, including a large number of minors, are driving trucks to ferry, load and unload cement. Education has taken a back seat and this is threatening the future of the area.
The government too is responsible for this destruction as they are deliberately procrastinating in taking appropriate measures. Cement factories emit a variety of pollutants in the atmosphere, yet the government is still letting them operate without any pollution control devices. People of the area have staged many peaceful protests in this regard but all have been in vain. Regular strikes against this menace is affecting shopkeepers and further diminishing the already low literacy rate. Residents have started leaving to live in safer and pollution free areas. But this is not the solution as most of the families in the area cannot afford to be uprooted completely. Pollution Control Board, an authority which is committed to providing pollution free environment to the people, has conveniently closed their eyes to this problem. Some residents even lodged Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against factories so that authorities would be forced to pay attention to it but instead of seeking a solution, the litigation is periodically revised to extend timelines in investigating the matter. The fight against cement factories is one and a half years old yet no resolution is in view.It is clearly a serious issue considering that it has even been covered by national media. Is there still anything left for investigation? If there is, I request the administration to investigate it with immediate effect and save the residents from perishing forever.
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