Shabir A Dar
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
World Environment Day is an annual event that is regarded as the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. World Environment Day activities take place all year round and climax on 5 June every year, involving everyone from everywhere. Keeping pace with world, the government of J&K and civil society too celebrate Environment Day by organizing symposia, seminars, rallies and other awareness programmes. But the need of the hour is to move beyond mere tokenism, which is so much in evidence on this day every year. This time around we – the people and government of J&K – should focus on generating true awareness of the environmental problem we are facing and to chalk out an adequate action plan to maintain the ecological balance.
Over a period of nearly five decades, Kashmir’s ecological balance has been severely disturbed as a result of unabated environmental destruction. The combined effect of deforestation and mismanagement of water resources has resulted into soil erosion which is responsible for frequent flash floods now seen in Jammu and Kashmir. Environmental degradation, including climate-change, land-use changes and natural resource degradation are aggravating disaster occurrences and impacts. To prevent environmental degradation and its adverse impact on human beings, it is necessary that society is made aware.
Through World Environment Day, the United Nations Environment Programme is able to personalize environmental issues and enable everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. The UN General Assembly has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with the goal of raising awareness of their unique development challenges and successes regarding a range of environmental problems, including climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, and extreme natural disasters.
Ills plaguing environment in Kashmir
Rapid depletion of snow cover in the Valley mainly due to climate change is a cause of serious concern. Environmentalists predict that it can have serious implications on irrigation, agriculture, and energy sectors in summers. Scanty snowfall and rising temperature can have a negative effect on Kashmir’s biodiversity.
The spurt rise in temperature has also led to recession of the largest glaciers of Kashmir Himalayas, Kolhai — the main water source of Valley. Environmentalists say that Kolhai has shrunk 18 percent during past three decades due to unprecedented increase in temperature, deforestation, increased activity of nomadic people near the Glacier and high levels of pollution caused by the emission of green house gases by vehicles and cement plants.
Tourism too affects environment
Environmentalists are expressing their concerns about the policy paralysis in Jammu and Kashmir to prevent the hazardous affects of tourist flow and tourism industry on Kashmir’s ecology and environment. With Kashmir receiving lakhs of tourists from all over India and world in all four seasons, solid waste or rubbish generated thereby threatens not just the ecology but the tourism industry itself.
One major concern of environmentalists which needs immediate attention is the unabated construction of concrete hotels at tourist spots in Valley. Ironically, the system has not only allowed construction of hotels right on the most scenic spots, but has also failed to provide adequate disposal systems for solid and liquid waste.
The sorry state of the famous Dal Lake has been widely reported. Now the court has directed the government to hasten its efforts to clean up the lake which has turned into a cesspool. Hotels on the banks of the lake pose a grave threat to the lake.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government’s Environment and Remote Sensing Department recently released a report calling for immediate measures to undo the environmental damage caused by unplanned construction at the famous resort Sonamarg, which lies some 90 kilometres north-east of Srinagar.
The waste generated by hundreds of thousands of tourists is thrown around without any treatment or scientific management, according to the study. And all untreated effluents find their way to the Indus River, which straddles this beautiful resort, often called the “golden meadow”.
Many people worry the Sonamarg will soon suffer a similar fate like the better-known tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg, where unconstrained tourism has caused havoc. Gulmarg, the world famous ski-resort, was recently in news for how it was fast turning into a garbage dump, with tons of solid waste generated there being dumped in a nearby forest. Experts have warned that if unscientific dumping of garbage was not immediately halted, it could lead to eco-disaster in Gulmarg, where 5000 tourists visit every day, and the spot generates at least 131.16 metric tons of solid waste annually. This high-altitude meadow has no waste treatment facilities either.
Another worry for Kashmir’s environmentalists is non-availability of required infrastructural facilities for the increasing number of religious tourists visiting various shrine and temples in Valley. It is because of ill-preparation on part of the concerned agencies that the growing number of pilgrims has contributed to aggravating the pollution problems.
While government has to play a pivotal role in the protection of environment, people at the individual level too has to come forward proactively to save Kashmir’s fragile environment. It can be done through collective effort of government and civil agencies as we are duty bound to preserve the beauty of Kashmir, rightly called as the ‘Paradise on Earth’. .
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” ― Mahatma Gandhi