Stinking Beauty

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Famous health resort Gulmarg which is known for its vast meadows and wild flower beds is facing existential threat as tonnes of waste generated by commercial outlets ends up in the surrounding forests.  Nazir Ahmad Rather reports.   

 Gulmarg-Polluted

Come summers and tourists from mainland India and other parts of the world throng Gulmarg, a famous health resort some 60 kilometres from Srinagar, to catch a glimpse of its scenic beauty. But as one enters the bowl shaped land of meadows that was once frequented by Maharajas and royalties, strong stench coming from huge garbage dumps greet visitors.

In last two decades, as tourist footfall increased in Gulmarg, a number of unplanned hotels, restaurants, roadside eateries, fast-food joints and other recreational projects have mushroomed in this tiny tourist spot. “I have read about Gulmarg in famous travel books. I thought it is really land of beautiful flowers and vast meadows as mentioned in the books. But this place literally stinks,” said Anneliese Strongman, a student from California who was on her first visit to Kashmir.

Everyday tonnes of garbage generated by such business units are dumped by Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) in this famous health resort.

The picturesque place is at the verge of losing it pristine beauty due to unabated garbage dumping around the area.

There are at least six places in Gulmarg where garbage is being dumped on routine basis. Authorities like GDA and municipal committee Tangmarg, who are at the helm of affairs of keeping the Gulmarg clean, find it very easy to dump the waste in the nearby forest.

Garbage generation has greatly increased over the last few years. Presently Gulmarg is producing at least 10 trollies of garbage per day, which was not the case earlier,” says one of the employees of Municipal Committee Tangmarg who pleaded anonymity.

“Apart from these commercial units army which has a huge presence in the area generate tonnes of garbage on a daily basis,” he says.

“Gulmarg is gradually losing its sheen as every day tonnes of garbage is being dumped by Municipal employees within the peripheral areas of Gulmarg,” Says Abdul Gaffarkhan a local shopkeeper in Gulmarg who has been running his shop in Gulmarg over the last 25 years. He believes that increased activity of tourists and increased numbers of hotels and eateries within Gulmarg has contributed a lot to garbage generation.

Authorities however claim that it is the non-availability of an incinerator that is forcing them to dump the garbage on the outskirts of Gulmarg.

“We are helpless because of non-availability of an incinerator in the Gulmarg. Government has provided us the equipment for making the incinerator but the local people are not allowing us to construct the incinerator at a proposed site at Tangmarg ,”says chief executive officer Gulmarg of development authority Tariq Ahamad. He says that it is not only the locals who are opposing this move but the government departments like revenue and, forest department are also not allowing them to start the construction work for the incinerator.

 “People feel that installation of incinerator in the area would create health related problems which is not the case,” says GulamRasool Shah the Chairman Municipal Committee Tangmarg.

The CEO Gulmarg development authority Tariq Ahmad says that they have identified a couple of places on the outskirts of Gulmarg where they can construct the incinerator. GDA is now planning to install the incinerator on its own land in Gulmarg.

We have already written to the government regarding the latest proposal. The moment we receive a green single from them we will start the work,” says Tariq Ahmad.

The excessive garbage dumping in Gulmarg hasn’t become the cause of worry for the environment lovers only but it is also pressing issue for shepherds and cowboys who frequently visit Gulmarg along with their cattle and sheep.

“Ever since the garbage dumping has increased here in Gulmarg we are experiencing an increased movement of bears within the forest even during the day.  Huge presence of garbage in the forests is inviting a good number of bears inside the grazing areas,” says Nazir Hussain khan a shepherd from Poonch. He says that it has now become difficult for them to take their cattle to such areas where garbage dumping has increased.

“Few days back my wife and my daughter was chased by a bear in the broad day light near a garbage dump site,” says Nazir Hussian khan who says that they were lucky enough to flee from the spot.

 “We believe that Gulmarg is one of the prime tourist destinations in the valley and it is important to have technologically sound incinerator here for proper disposal of waste in the area,” says Tariq Ahmad.

Besides installing the technologically sound incinerator in Gulmarg the GDA have a number of plans in the pipe line for making Gulmarg a safer and greener tourist destination.

“GDA is now planning to have an underground market in Gulmarg. We are shortly installing an underground cable system in Gulmarg. We have also made it mandatory for the hotels with more than 20 room bed capacity to have their own sewerage treatment plant,” explains Tariq Ahmad.

Time is ripe to act fast before this beautiful piece of land known for its wild flowers and meadows turns into eye sore for visitors seeking peace in the wilderness.

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