SRINAGAR: Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Dr. Asghar Hassan Samoon, convened a meeting on June 4 regarding the conservation of Anchar, Khushhalsar and Gilsar lakes. The Divisional Commissioner directed the concerned to make proper management plan for separating the drainage and sewerage for better preservation and maintenance of these water bodies. He further directed them to complete the sewerage treatment plants within the scheduled time frame. He asked the Chief Engineer NBCC to expedite the work on drainage system around these lakes. The Divisional Commissioner also directed the Municipal authorities to clear encroachments and constructions around these water bodies within 15 days. He asked them not to allow any further illegal constructions or encroachments around these lakes.
While the Div Coms interest and putative action regarding our key water bodies and wetlands is welcome but his interest and proposed action may be a case of too little and too late. Our water bodies and wetlands are dying a slow but inevitable death. While KO has dwelt extensively on these water bodies but we will today link the issue to our wetlands.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Water saturation (hydrology) largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favour the growth of specially adapted plants (hydrophytes) and promote the development of characteristic wetland (hydric) soils (https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/what-wetland).
Globally, it is said that wetlands cover about 9% of the earths surface and are estimated to contain around 35% of global terrestrial carbon
Wetlands are then a significant and critical part of our natural environment. Not only they or their pristine form have ecological implications and consequences, they also ameliorate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve the quality of water. Wetlands provide an ecosystem that supports life systems and provides a habitat for animals and plants. Another function of wetlands is to act as sinks for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but key here is if the wetlands vegetation is protected and their natural processes are maintained.
But, alas, in Kashmir, wetlands are getting depleted and dissipated by the day.
The reason(s) for dwelling on the nature and importance of wetlands is to highlight and illustrate the constant and consistent depletion of these in Kashmir. There are political economy, governmental and popular reasons for this. In terms of political economy, the near dysfunctional relation between government and markets creates abnormal conditions in Kashmir. What does this mean?
Consider an example.
Governmental apathy coupled with lack or absence of planning by the state coupled with demographic pressures leads to a condition where markets go amok here. Housing and living space needs may illustrate this point. As population increases, more people need living space and housing demands escalate. In the absence of a policy to house people, market forces generate a momentum which makes people take recourse to insalubrious actions like carving out living space on wetlands. Similarly, effluents discharged and dumped by institutions and commercial establishments or by even people given the paucity of municipal dumping sites add to the depletion of our wetlands
Governments either turn a blind eye to this or perhaps even encourage this by not taking any action.
Classic examples of this are the dying (or by now dead) Anchar Lake- a once beautiful, fresh water lake. The death of this lake corresponds to the reasons laid out in this analysis. Similarly Khushhal Sar a connecting waterbody which snaked through what used to be the outskirts of Srinagar city- is now moribund. The reasons are invariably the same. This affects out wetlands too given that they are interlined and interconnected.
While the onus of blame largely lies on the government because of the power and authority it wields and because it has responsibility to protect the environment, other stakeholders cannot be absolved. The reference here is to the political class including separatists. If they (separatist politicians) can raise a hue and cry over purported Govt plan to build a settlement in ecologically fragile area in 2008, what explains their studied silence on similar but more serious issues.
Interest and action on environmental issues would neither entail mainstreaming of separatists nor inclusion in governance issues but rather would mean getting involved in issues that have a bearing on our environmental and ecological welfare which cuts across generations. What is the meaning of Kashmir if Kashmir does not remain Kashmir-in its pristine and natural form? Is this not an issue that has a bearing on all? If it does, then why dont separatists use their leverage and authority on these issues? These are questions that warrant not merely an answer but also action.
In terms of the Government, even though much damage has been done but the Government can do a salvage job. This must be done on a war footing. Our ecological landscape , environment and allied issues are at stake here. Perhaps what the Government can , as a first step, do is signal its resolve to maintain the sanctity and ecology of waterways and wetlands in Kashmir. This may entail a degree of authoritative action- banning new structures around these, demolition of structures which are deemed dangerous and prohibition of new buildings. Once this is done, it may be followed by developing a stakeholder approach towards preventing further depletion of our water bodies and water ways. People, NGOs , the media and other concerned and affected parties may be involved to devise a robust strategy to check further degradation. Last but not the least, the government needs to conceive, devise and implement planning frameworks and designs that foresee problems and contingencies. Planning and execution foresight, implementation efficiency and effectiveness and contingency plans can go ways in rendering Kashmirs ecology more balanced. If things are allowed to drift as they are, then it is disaster that awaits us.
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