Prioritise Ecology

The ruling coalition government is apparently trying to evolve its policies on various fronts. The just-announced developmental plan announced by Prime Minister is helping it identify focused areas. However, the invisible area is the ecology of the place that seems lost on the priorities. Ecology is a serious issue and Kashmir has suffered enormously on this front. September 2014 flood was the last major crisis.

The government has been literally noisy on rehabilitation and restoration but it is still not known what it intends to do with the Jhelum. This river has been off the public attention for a very long time now. Encroachments on the main course apart, its major tributaries are choked and nothing much was done to the flood spill channel.

To address the public concern after the floods, leaders from NC and PDP talking at length about the resource requirements that Jhelum management requires. It was said that the central government was aware of the issue and will be supportive. Last month when Prime Minister announced the ‘package’, not a huge amount was announced for Jhelum.

With tons of silt, floods choked the water channels, rendering them shallow. Last year, society built strong pressure to force the government work. It wanted an immediate initiation of dredging, a normal activity for last 100 years. They had warned that even small discharge in the river could trigger a crisis because floods have reduced the capacity for water passage. Kashmir did experience a crisis like situation in March when water literally started flowing above the danger marks and people in certain areas actually migrated.

A year later, this is the ideal time to fast forward the dredging. Water levels are very low and dredging could be very economic. Some activity in certain belts of the river is going on but it is small and merely cosmetic in nature. Engineers must carry out a survey suggesting which areas need dredging and to what extent. The government must strengthen the mechanical division of the irrigation department further by infusing more resources into it. If the government lacks resources, dredging could even be permitted for private sector because it is a viable economic activity. Even a PPP could offer a solution.

 The other issue to be taken care of is the quality of air right now. Kashmir’s traditional systems to manage winter requirements of charcoal have remained unchanged. Breathing – the basic fundamental of life, in Srinagar, a tourist place, is become cumbersome, especially for people having breathing issues.

While massive load of tear smoke, chili-powder, pepper gas has been in limited quality, the massive additions of autumn smoke is disastrous as it impacts early melting of glaciers. Credible scientific studies suggest that foggy conditions that prevailed in Srinagar for many days, jamming air traffic, is linked to the massive smoke additions to the environs of Kashmir.

Is not there a possibility of getting science to help people identify some mechanism that will reduce the smoke and smog load on atmosphere? Policymakers must take the issue very seriously and at least make some effort to undo the status quo.

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