Protecting Kashmir’s Natural Resources is our Collective Responsibility: Rasool
Ajaz Rasool, chief adviser to the Environment Policy Group, talks about the need to protect our water bodies and other natural resources
“We as a society need to take responsibility for protecting our lakes, our environment. We can involve administrative bodies to help save and maintain our natural resources.” – Ajaz Rasool, chief adviser to the Environment Policy Group
Byline: Mareaya Fayaz
Last week, Kashmir Central covered the problem of pollution in Kashmir, towards which the people and the authorities had turned a blind eye. The last edition covered how the lack of a proper drainage system had led to pollution of the water bodies, and how the lack of landfills had generated bad odour and air pollution. We had interviewed the chief adviser of the Environment Policy Group, Ajaz Rasool. In this edition, we continue the interview and talk of how our pristine water bodies have been neglected by the people as well as the authorities, causing irreversible damage.
Improper cleaning causes green mould to grow on Dal Lake
Ajaz Rasool said that in the last few years, the Dal Lake had witnessed an unprecedented growth of water lilies. The Lakes Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) started to remove the water lilies that were clogging the lake. The only problem with this process was that the use of JCBs, loaded on platoons, led to the growth of micro-cystic bloom on the water. The clearing should have been carried out using machinery patented for the process. The micro-cystic bloom spread across the Gagribal area, carried through the movement of houseboats, which was recorded by the Public Health Engineering Department. The LCMA had issued an advisory to check the concentration of mould in the water, to prevent people from being affected. However, this was only known to the Public Health Engineering Department. The people were not aware of it. Anywhere else in the world, the government would have had to answer for putting the entire population’s health at risk. We, as an environmental protection group, had asked the LCMA many times, to get rid of the JCBs because they would only increase the growth of the micro-cystic bloom, creating a health hazard for the people of Srinagar. This has earlier occurred in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, where animals died after drinking the infected water.
Destruction of forests lead to increased sedimentation in water bodies:
With our land use changing, our forests are being encroached upon. We are using forest land for agricultural purposes. When cultivators loosen the soil, rain or melting snow washes away the top soil which goes into the water bodies and settles as sediment. This is another problem which needs to be attended to and is one of the main reasons for water pollution.
The floods in 2014 followed the dredging at the tail end of the Jhelum river, in Sopore and Baramulla. This created a channel for sediment to flow in from the river. This has been happening since 1960, the year the machines were brought in. Only in 2012 was new machinery brought in. For 30 years, all the sediment from the catchment areas flowed into the river and then into the Wular Lake. The sediment filled up Wular Lake to the extent that 30% of the volumetric capacity of the lake was lost. The Wular Lake, which would absorb any excess water in the region, had little capacity to do so because of the sedimentation and so the Jhelum water levels rose following incessant rain leading the devastating floods.
The tragic tale of the Hokersar wetlands:
The Hokersar wetlands, a Ramsar site of international importance, dried up. When a probe was ordered, it was found that the irrigation department had dredged a deep canal across Hokersar to channel the flood waters into the Jhelum. The deep dredging had drained all water from the wetlands. It remained dry for two years, when environmental activists started a campaign to protect it. On investigation it was found that no controlling gates were installed at the outlet to check and maintain the flow of water from the wetlands. The clearance committee formed by the central government had imposed a rider that mandated the contractor to always maintain 4 feet of water at Hokersar. This was never adhered to, however. The gates have now been installed and hopefully the water will return to the Hokersar wetlands.
The same thing happened at the Hygam wetlands. When members of the Environmental Policy Group, headed by Rasool, went to the site, they found it in a very bad condition. It had not been maintained for many years. The trees had fallen down, people had encroached on the land and set up orchards and cultivated paddy in the area. The wildlife department, the caretaker of the wetlands, had nothing to say about it. Following exposure of the neglect, there was increased awareness so that not only was eco-restoration carried out but attempts were made to restore it to its original condition. The wildlife department, however, took exception to the Environmental Policy Group’s actions and tried to defend itself against the questions raised. Rasool said that it was not a battle and the group was not criticising the department or pointing fingers. It was only concerned with the restoration of the wetlands to its original condition, he added.
The destruction of Achar Lake:
Achar Lake is a tourist attraction and is known for its varied aquatic life. There is paddy cultivation on the Ganderbal side of the lake. On the other side, however, people are urged not to even dip a finger in the water due to the risk of contracting skin infections. That’s how dirty the water is. Till now no project has been formulated to restore it. Rasool said that in other countries where there are no natural water bodies, artificial lakes are created at a huge expense and even more money is spent on their maintenance. “We have been given these beautiful lakes by nature and yet we fail to protect them,” he added.
What is the solution?
“We as a society need to take responsibility for protecting our lakes, our environment. We can involve administrative bodies to help save and maintain our natural resources,” Rasool said. The various governmental bodies should work together to protect the region’s natural resources. Projects involving any natural resource should not be cleared unless due diligence is done, he added. This would ensure that disasters like at the Hokersar wetlands don’t happen, according to Rasool.