Caring for Karewas 

Kashmir’s Geological Treasure Under Severe Threat. Karewas be declared as heritage sites 

AT a time when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Srinagar as a part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), it is the duty of the Government to ensure that every bit of heritage in and around Srinagar is protected. This must include the Karewas.

Kashmir’s Karewas are massive plateaus which are dry but highly fertile. Due to its rich history, the Karewas are geological treasures — unnoticed heritage of Kashmiri people. The Karewas of Kashmir are so flat and massive that Srinagar international airport is located on one such plateau in district Budgam called Karewa Damodar.

The valley of Kashmir is an oval-shaped basin with a plain area of 140 x 40 kms. The valley has large tracts of plateaus locally known as Karewas or Wodder . This is like an intermountain fill that comprises unconsolidated gravel and mud. Geologists say that Karewas of Kashmir were formed during the Pleistocene period which is defined as the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. This was the time when the entire valley of Kashmir  was under water and resembled a massive lake. When the water of the valley got drained out through Khadanyar (Baramulla),huge mud deposits were left during this process which solidified and came to be known as Karewas with the passage of time.

Damage Done

Due to massive urbanisation, the Karewas of Kashmir are under severe threat as they are being razed to ground and bulldozed. Since the last two decades, approximately 30% of Karewas in Pulwama and Budgam have been razed to the ground, which is a plunder of these geological formations. The Karewas could have been developed as a tourist attraction but authorities at helm have never even thought of giving them legal protection by declaring them as heritage sites.

According to Prof Khurshid Ahmad Parray in a research article published in Current Science Volume 100 , number 6 dated March 25th 2011, geological research done in various parts of Kashmir valley by several geologists has revealed that several fossils were found in upper reaches of Budgam. As per the studies undertaken by Godwin Austen 1864 , it is reported that fish scales were found in Karewas  of Goggee Pathri  and upper mountain areas of  Liddermud and Yusmarg . As reported by Patterson (1940), an elephant species called  Elephas hysudricus (now extinct) were found  in Karewas of Pulwama and Budgam areas. The article further says that fossils of  Sivatherium giganteum (extinct species of Giraffe) have been found in Samboora karewas near Pampore. This implies the importance of the geological treasure that is being ignored and exploited.

With similar concerns, noted geologist of Kashmir Prof Abdul Majid Bhat, who has carried out seminal research work on Khonmoh fossil park has also expressed reservations with the destruction of Karewas and he too has been demanding that Government initiate necessary legal frameworks to declare Karewas as heritage sites.

Many activities have contributed to the damage done to the Karewas. The impact and fall out is quite evident.

The authorities seem to be least bothered about undertaking a massive crackdown against the soil excavators who are now operating in the broad daylight across  several areas of Budgam, Pulwama and Pattan areas. The Karewas of central Kashmir’s  Budgam district  are under the threat of extinction as due to ceaseless soil excavation since the last more than 2 decades now. An estimated 30 to 40% of the Karewas in Khansahib, Budgam and Chadoora areas alone have been razed to ground after continuous plunder by huge soil excavating machines and JCBs.

The destruction of Karewas began in the mid 1990s after the Qazigund Baramulla railway project was started in Kashmir. Massive soil excavation work was taken up in Pattan, Pulwama and Budgam  Karewas. Hundreds of trucks and other load carriers were pressed into work by various construction firms who were given contracts for this Railway project to carry the clay for creating elevated railway tracks. The karewas of Pulwama and Budgam initially became the direct target.

Huge excavators thus plundered the karewas by luring farmers who owned land there. The muck which has been used for making elevated railway tracks from Qazigund to Baramulla has largely been built from the material obtained from the Karewas.

The Government could have explored constructing railway tracks on pillars as was done in case of Delhi Metro. Instead, Railway engineers chose to fill almost 170 kms of valley with huge muck and clay to create railway tracks. A  beautiful  hillock  at village  Khanda in Chadoora tehsil of Budgam was also destroyed in the process.

The continuous soil excavation from the Karewas and felling of trees in forests leads to extensive siltation of Jhelum river which then causes massive floods due to rise in the water level.

Chadoora , Hyathpora and Nagam Karewa which used to be famous for best quality almond orchards have been vandalized as demand for clay is increasing day by day. The farmers are equally responsible for this mess as they welcomed construction firms to bulldoze their karewas for petty gains.

The saffron cultivation done on thousands of hectares of the Karewa land especially in Pampore,Samboora, Parigam , Kaisermulla, Sarai Khampora, Kuzweira, Kultreh and a number of other villages in Pulwama and Budgam has come down drastically. In Wadipora and Kultreh villages, the Karewas were vandalized by brick kilns as well as dozens of such kilns were set up in these areas. Clay from these karewas is used to make bricks thus defacing these beautiful plateaus.

Urgent Call for Action

There is great apprehension that Karewas of Budgam and Pulwama will be destroyed further as work on Srinagar Semi Ring Road has already been started. A major portion of Karewa land around Ichgam , Ichkoot and Budibagh has been demolished. The government has completely ignored the dire need of an  environmental impact assessment document for the public, so that people would know what kind of measures National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) will take to cause minimum environmental disaster. We can’t afford to see our national heritage plundered. The Government must immediately call upon NHAI to ensure no soil excavation is done around Karewas during Ring Road construction. Let us protect and preserve this geological treasure from further destruction.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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