Ziraat Times Research Team

The devastating floods of 2016 made it clear to everyone why it is important to conserve the last-remaining wetlands in Kashmir valley. In the last forty years or so, largescale earth-filling and urbanisation activities in Kashmir’s wetlands have consumed an estimated 70% of all wetland area in Kashmir valley. The sad thing is that earth-filling and construction activity on the remaining 30% land is going on unabated, despite several laws prohibiting the same. 
Rakh-e-Aarith is one such example. Despite time having clearly demonstrated the short-sightedness of transforming the great wetland in Srinagar’s outskirts into a civilian habitation, land filling in the vicinity of the existing human habitation is said to continue.

Two of the critical wetlands in the vicinity of Rakh-e-Aarith are facing immense human pressure. Hokersar, a 13.75 Sq.Km wetland
 is filled with the migratory birds who prey on fish and insects in this protected territory. Such flora and fauna is quite critical in maintaining ecological balance in the valley. Migratory birds start their annual sojourn here in early September and stay until mid-February or early March. Annually around 7 lakh migratory birds of 13 different species have reached Hokersar reserve. 

Narkara, a 3.25 Sq.Km wetland, receives its water supply from Doodh Ganga catchment and is surrounded by the paddy cultivation and willow plantation areas. Due to heavy encroachments, the considerable amount of marshy area has been converted into the solid land masses. 

If these wetlands get further filled, not only would a great amount of flora and fauna die there, Rakh-e-Aarith would face newer risks too. This week Ziraat Times features two of Kashmir’s prominent environmental conservationists to reflect on the state of the valley’s wetlands and what needs to be done to protect them. 

Wetlands are the arteries and veins of our landscape

Manzoor Wangnoo

Manzoor Ahmed Wangnoo

It gives me an immense pleasure to learn that Ziraat Times has shown a great deal of concern towards the degradation of environment.
Wetlands are the arteries and veins of our landscape, and to tackle floods reviving the wetlands and restoring them should be one of the primary objectives. It is suggested that further construction and filling of wetlands especially Rakhi-Arth should be disallowed.

I believe that the people have become more and more aware about the environment with the help of wide publicity through print and electronic media as a result the message to preserve the environment has reached to every home throughout the country. However, some people took the challenge very seriously and formed different societies to save environment as well as water bodies and for maintaining ecological balance. In the recent past our people too have shown great concern about preservation of our ecology and there is not a single day when the subject is not talked about at different levels. 

After the pollution had endangered the Nigeen Lake a local NGO Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) took the challenge head on to restore the glory of the Lake with the active participation of the people. We started the NGO to save the Lake from becoming a cesspool. Now, many years after its establishment in 2000, NLCO has ensured a sea change in the Nigeen Lake as the people residing in its vicinity were made aware about the importance of the pollution free lake. The initiatives of NLCO has prompted every conscious citizen contribute in preserving the lake by not emptying the refuse into the lake which has helped significantly in ensuring the pollution and polythene free lake.

NLCO believes that there is a great need to create awareness regarding our environment, in this connection NLCO has organized many events which created a great impact towards the same, few of which are listed below:

Anti Polythene Drive:

Several Government and private organizations have supported NLCO. The organizations include University of Kashmir, Kashmir Chamber of commerce & Industry, Kashmir Private school Association, doctors of Government Medical college, Houseboat Owners Association and so on. The drive was pivotal in banning the use polythene in valley.

Moving planet day rally (Save Water bodies of Kashmir):

In collaboration with State Pollution Control Board, IYCN & Private School Association, NLCO organized a rally of school going students to create mass awareness against the use of fossil fuels and saving the water bodies of Kashmir.

Retrieval of Spring at Ahmada Kadal, Srinagar

Coupled with problems of being buried under garbage for over decades and the mud poured in, the retrieval of this natural spring was challenging & a daunting task. NLCO volunteers under the guidance of experts did their best to liberate the spring. Work was executed in the most difficult situation. However, optimistic  NLCO volunteers, with the highly valuable technical guidance available and their resolve to do it, achieved the target.

Op-Clean-up of Streams of Pokhribal, Nallah Amir Khan and Khojjiyarbal-Naidyar

After seeing the appalling condition of Pokhribal, also known as Chotta Nigeen and the down streams of Amir Khan and Khojjiyarbal-Naidyar: NLCO decided to launch an operation Clean-up through its volunteers and hired labourers. We Removed a very huge quantity of weeds, garbage including carcasses, offals and rags etc.

The Pokhribal Waterbody  was stinking and the two streams:

Nallah Amir Khan and Khojjiyarbal-Naidyar, were choked completely & on their last throes. The operation yielded quick results as the flow of water was restored from Pokhribal to Nallah Amir Khan and Khojjiyarbal to Naidyar, giving a new lease of life to these water bodies.

Post floods 2014, our focus mainly shifted towards the rehabilitation of the flood victimsA housing colony of 100 plus concrete houses for the flood victims of Chinar Bagh & Chuntikhul waterway has been built, with the aim of liberating the water bodies of encroachments and pollution.  One of our prime objectives is to discourage human habitations in and around waterbodies.

The author heads Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO), Nigeen Tourist Traders Association (NTTA) and Moral Education, Environment and Relief Council of Pvt. Schools’ Association (MEERC PSAJK)

Urgent need for wetlands’ inventory monitoring and public awareness

Faiz Bakshi

Faiz Bakshi

Nature has generously blessed us with a large number of wetlands which provide a distinct eco-system beneficial by way of water supply, food, fish , ground water recharge, flood control, climate change mitigation and leisure activities.Wetlands also play host to millions of stationery and migratory birds.Significantly, the local communities derive benefits from its produce and employment opportunities essential for a sustainable development.
It is the mandate of the Government and the responsibility of the people towards conservation of wetlands for their value , more-so,in the face of growing risks facing humanity on account of environmental damage, biodiversity loss and collapse of eco-system.
The State Of Jammu & Kashmir with more than 1200 recorded Wetlands( ISRO Mapping)are fast shrinking in area and number due to vandalisation, encroachments and prohibitive use both by Government and private players.Some of it in the name of questionable development.The case of Rakh-i-Arth and Rakh-i-Gund Ajas are blatant examples.The wetland-turned-Central University 
Ganderbal deserves a mention which from the very beginning have developed large cracks.The Narakarra Nambal/Wetland earth filled and demarcated for establishing IIM,World Islamic University,KVK-SKUAST & many other Government and non-Governmental institutions.All this in the name of education and development despite a status quo order issued by the Hon’ble Division Bench In PIL titled Environmental Policy Group (EPG) vs Union of India & others.This apart from encroachment and construction of hundreds of houses with the knowledge and connivance of authorities.The loss of natural resources, water bodies and wetlands is already taking a heavy toll and resulting in abnormal weather conditions.
The case of Hokersar wetland is much more serious. It is covered under Ramsar Convention where an area of 1360 Hectares or 27200 Kanals is registered in 2007-2008.But, more than 20000 Kanals is missing most of it with earthfilling and Municipal Waste.Similarly is the fate of Dal Lake and Nageen Lake. Gilsar, Khushalsar, Anchar are almost extinct.
Development is fine but a sustainable one is what is desirable.It can be no one’s case that development take precedence over conservation of wetlands which enjoy protection under 160-Member International Ramsar Convention to which India is a signatory.The Wetlands also are protected under Central & State Laws & Rules for Wetlands conservation,National Wetland Policies & Action Plan,Supreme Court And High Court Rulings.
The urgent need is to develop Programs For Wetlands Inventory Monitoring, Research,Training, education and public awareness.
Any attempt for development by destroying Wetlands is a sure recipe for disaster.

The author is Convenor-Environmental Policy Group (EPG)