Engaging the citizenry

Tarique A Bhat
Citizen action most often addresses local concerns or needs that impact our quality of life. There is a greater need for citizens to take responsibility and action in caring for our water bodies and urban environment. Citizen action groups can reach individuals in ways government agencies cannot. Communities themselves benefit from citizen involvement as it increases the well being of the community.
From a broader perspective, green or ecological initiatives are developing on all levels here in Kashmir. University of Kashmir, schools, corporates, NGO’s are coming up with strategic environmental agendas. Environmental committees including individual citizens, nature clubs and community groups are organising to influence responsible environmental decisions and sustainable development.  
What is crucial is to develop the right approach, for engaging the citizenry which is target oriented and not meant for mere publicity.
The offer of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) to restore glory of the Brari Nambal lagoon is of special interest.   We need to get a cue from how superbly J & K Bank has maintained the adopted parks like Iqbal Park, Badamwari, Children’s Park Pahalgam et al.   The president of the KCCI, Dr Mubeen Shah put forward to adopt the lagoon at the function of ‘Operation Clean up’ organised by the Nageen Lake Conservation Organization (NLCO). This private initiative can lead us to discover the water bodies of Kashmir  afresh .
It is an open secret that government has failed in creating awareness and action on the fragileness of Valley water bodies and the increasing pressure they face from forces such as climate change and ill-considered human activity.
Admitting that his government had not adequately combated issues related to the environmental degradation, the then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on June 5,2008 said that if there was “any blemish in his regime so far”, it was his government’s failure to protect and conserve the Dal Lake. He, however, said that the deterioration of Dal Lake has occurred over the years because of a nefarious nexus between the politicians and the people from land mafia.  
It is important to determine a focal point that identifies the issues and offers a different approach. A small group of concerned citizens need to recognize the direct threat to our environment. We need to identify wrong policies and priorities of the government, human greed, socio-economic pressures, natural and human induced hazards that have exacerbated the valley’s vulnerabilities in terms of threatened ecology. We are at last awakening to the reality. We cannot wait for our government to act, though they must act if the problems faced by our environment are ultimately to be solved. Organisations and individuals with the power to act independently should take ecological matters into their own hands.
What is absolutely imperative is to stop whining and complaining about the cult of victimhood but to actually confront what it is that we can do ourselves. We have got lost in a maze. We are not dying, yet we are not living. We are existing in a state of limbo where everything is uncertain.
If we are to win some victories for mankind, we must move people from vested interest to the public good. Creating public awareness about water bodies care issues is a must. For the average citizen to become involved, they must be aware of the issues. Therefore, education becomes a major component in obtaining the support and participation of individuals.  
The lakes and rivers of Kashmir , with their acknowledged importance, are part of a larger system of water bodies. Looking at each one of them like Dal or Jehlum  in isolation would be at peril to the ecology of the Kashmir Valley. Major towns of Islamabad, Sopore and Baramulla, are all fed by the River Jhelum. The Dal Lake, Anchar Lake Wullar etc are directly linked to it.
The ecological crises we now face are evidence of a more deeply rooted crisis of perception. We are not seeing the water bodies as a network deeply connected to each other. We look at that lake and say, ‘oh that lake is the environment’. Actually the Earth is like our body. Trees are like our lungs.The rivers and waters of our planet are our circulation. If we pollute them, we pollute our circulation. And finally choke the system.
Collectively and decisively, we can set a powerful example for the next generation of leaders who will increasingly interact with one another on these issues. Universities are the natural leaders of such an effort, but other non-profit organisations, and for-profit businesses should heed the call as well, because, our future depends on it.
Through diverse community-driven projects, and in partnership with many others, urban environmental organizations must provide a vehicle to facilitate active public involvement in our sustainable urban environment.
That’s where KCCI proposal comes in.
Simply put, Kashmir’s fragile ecosystem needs our-the citizenry- help. You plant the seed of awareness, and then action can take place. People deeply, passionately care about their environment. It’s not like we don’t care. But they need to have the tools [to get involved]. The initiative. A year from now [we hope] that may be people will look at water resources differently. It’s coming, drop by drop. That’s how we make change.

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