Only Amarnath has Capped Number of Devotees: Says Sunita Narain

Shakir Mir

SRINAGAR

Sunita Narain

India’s leading environmentalist, Sunita Narian, Monday claimed that Amarnath was the only pilgrimage in India “where number of visitors has been capped” while stressing on the need to strike balance between the needs of pilgrims and the environmental stability of the area. Narian, a Padma Shree awardee, was speaking at an event by Delhi Public School, Budgam and Peoples’ Empowerment Mission in the outskirts of Srinagar city.

“Amarnath is the only Shrine across the country where we have capped the inflow of the devotees,” Narian, who is also a member of Amarnath Shrine Board, said while addressing a group of students, teachers and media delegates.

Narian was accompanied by former Union Minister for Water Resources, Prof Saifuddin Soz and Mehfooz Aslam, Principal, DPS Budgam.

While responding to a question on the impact of militarization of Kashmir’s ecology, Narian said that she hasn’t comes across any study yet that makes an assessment on the subject while adding that she would welcome any relevant research. She also said the Hotels in Kashmir especially those situated at renowned tourist destinations have not installed Sewage Treatment Plants (STP’s) leading to a greater discharge to pollutants into river bodies.

She also said that pollution levels in River Lidder that flows through Pahalgam has come down from 300 mg per litre to 30 mg per litre over the last few years notwithstanding the rush of pilgrims to the eco-fragile area while crediting the development to establishment of two “extraordinary” Sewage Treatment Plants (STP).

Narian said that the Climate Change was perceptible and Himalayas would be most vulnerable to all the changes in the weather that are happening. “Today, it is clear that with climate change, three developments will happen simultaneously,” she said.

“First one is that monsoon which is already variable will become even more variable.” She said that Western disturbances were now getting linked to two developments; one happening in the Mediterranean and another in Tibetan plateau. She said that it is now more and more understood by scientists that Mediterranean is heating up because of climate change and the Westerlies coming from it are bringing in more water that collides with Easterlies coming from the Bay of Bengal resulting in the kind of rainfall that Kashmir received last year preceding floods.

“It is also said that Tibetan plateau is heating up and because of which we are beginning to see more instability in the local weather and wind pattern,” she said.  “This is also linked to fact that Artic front is becoming more variable and that is leading to heatstroke events like that one that happened in Karachi, Russia recently.”

While propounding the second development, Narian said that the rainfall pattern was becoming more extreme and less moderate rainfall events are being recorded. “Warning atmosphere means that it can hold more water and therefore you get extreme rain events. In our country, finance minister is not Arun Jaitley, it is the monsoon that is,” she jibed while trying to assert the gravity of situation.

Narian said when monsoon becomes extreme people are in for a greater trouble. “Monsoon is the life stream of this country. The entire economy of the country depends on the monsoon. The variation in the monsoon is far more important to us than a fever that Jaitley will have,” she said.

Narian said that on an average India gets 100 hours of rainfall in a year. “Just imagine if these 100 hours will become less. You will get more rain in fewer days because the atmosphere can hold more water,” she said.

Narian said that monsoon could weaken overtime and can have a long term implications over the country. “Today scientists fear that this will change in the years to come as the sea becomes warmer than the land. So monsoon may weaken and with the climate change making atmosphere hold more water, it will rain more and more in fewer rainfall incidents which will make our future complicated,” she added.

Narian proposed two “inconvenient routes” to salvage the situation. In first one she called upon the Western countries to abide by the recommendations of Kyoto Protocol of 1992 according to which they were obliged to reduce greenhouse emissions to considerable extent. “The fact is climate change is happening because rich world has completely reneged on its commitment to reduce emissions. The US is the world’s biggest culprit in terms of historical emissions. China has overtaken it in term of annual emissions but in terms of emissions per capita, US still fares number one,” she said. Narian said the US emits some 70 tons per person of CO2 where China emits some 6-7 tons while India, 1.8 to 2 tones. “It was agreed in 1992 that rich nations will reduce the carbon footprint and we (Poorer countries) will have a right to development grow differently.”

Narian said that the air pollution in Srinagar has worsened to extent that she couldn’t breathe when she had been to city recently. “You do not monitor your air, so you do not know how polluted it is. In Delhi, we monitor our air, we know it’s polluted. I could feel the pollution in Srinagar,” she informed the audience.

Narian further said that industrialized nations need to reduce the emissions and must enable the developing countries to grow differently. “We don’t have to first pollute. We don’t have to full Srinagar with diesel cars first and then think about the eco-friendly transport system. We could plan our city today so that you have places for people to walk and ride bicycle,” she said.

“When I see today’s roads in Srinagar, I realize that you are making the same mistake that we made in Delhi,” she said adding that there was no place for people to walk and to ride bicycle. “I saw buses that are old and extremely polluting. Very clearly one route inconvenient route is that developed world has not kept its commitment and we have not built and economy differently,” she said.

While explaining the second “inconvenient route”, Narian informed the audience that whatever happened with the climate, developing countries will be doubly impacted. “So if you get a bad rainfall as you did last year, you will be doubly impacted because you have done development so badly and neglected local environment so when an extreme rainfall event happens, it will lead to even more devastation.”

Narian said that Srinagar floods were not only because of the extremely rain event but of the fact that people have wilfully destroyed the local water bodies and channels that could take water away. “We are a hydraulic society. When British came they were amazed how Indians have built a society with so little water,” she said. “If we go back to the deserts of that time you will see a sophisticated art of water management.”

Narian also grieved that Kashmir valley had an incredible system of tanks and ponds where every pond was connected to next. “It was a flood management system you had deliberately designed for holding the water, for re-charging the ground water, for flood water evacuation,” she said. “You grew the food on same water bodies. You built culture of food, culture of lifestyle culture of settlements with the water.”

Narian said that every part of India had this incredibly sophisticated water engineering system. “Culture was built on management of water,” she said.

Yet, she informed, in the last sixty years, people have destroyed it. “Today if you see a tank, you only see land. We are in hurry to fill that tank so that we could erect building and malls on it. I never saw people saying that the tank needs water,” she said.

She said that people erected houses even on places where they were not supposed to. “If floods won’t come then what would?”

She said that in a climate-risked world people have to be very clear about the culture of being able to live with water and their ability to live with the environment. She said that in order to build a secure a well-being of society, water management will have to be rediscovered.

“Today we have a society which is greedy,” she further opined. “Inequities are growing. We will have to reverse this. We know that floods will happen once in 50 years, then once in 10 years followed by once in five years and then each year. If we do not re-invent the way to proper development, such scenarios would be inevitable.”

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