April 16, 2007 1:58:40 am
In a case of one government department not knowing what the other is doing, hundreds of acres in what is to be Jammu & Kashmir’s largest national park — home to the near-extinct markhore, a majestic mammal with corkscrew horns — have been leased out for gypsum mining.
The state Forest & Environment Department says it doesn’t know how this happened. And the Department of Geology & Mining says it doesn’t seek the Forest & Environment Department’s clearance before issuing no-objection certificate to miners but will do so henceforth.
“I am shocked,” said J&K Forest & Environment Minister Qazi Mohammad Afzal. “I will order a probe on how these miners got NOCs. As endangered species are our greatest assets, efforts won’t be spared to save them by closing these mines.”
He said that only recently his department had closed a gypsum mine in Bimyar that was close to the notified Limber sanctuary area.
The Limber and Lachipora wildlife sanctuaries, which lie close to the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri, were united in 1987 to establish Jammu & Kashmir’s largest national park. The establishment process is on with help from Wildlife Trust of India and the World Wildlife Organisation. The 211 sq km park is home to the markhore and seven other endangered wildlife species.
A survey in 2005 had been encouraging: it said that musk deer and tragopans were doing well in the region and estimated there were some 200 markhore.
But the Department of Geology & Mining has all along been clearing gypsum mines inside the park, which means they are in close proximity to the notified sanctuary area within the park. Generally, activity is restricted in park and sanctuary areas.
Says Dr Ranjit Singh, senior trustee, Wildlife Institute of India, “Leasing out land for mining in and around the park is dangerous. There is no doubt that the presence of people and blasting of dynamite will have grave impact over endangered species, especially the Qazinag markhore, which are highly susceptible to environmental threats.”
By the government’s own figures, some 1,400 kanal of land in the park has been leased for mining gypsum, used as soil conditioner and as plaster for home interiors and surgical splints.
In 1997, Raz Chemicals was allotted lease for excavation in Niloosa village. The same year Khyber Industries was allotted three leases. In 2003, leases were allotted to Noor Mohammad Tramboo and Snow White, while in 2005 they were allotted to G M Industries and Tower Chemicals.
“I’m surprised. I cannot understand how private miners managed leases in an area where a big national park is coming up. It’s illegal,” says Warden Syed Mushtaq Ahmad Parsa of the Department of Wildlife. “We are still trying to get possession of land from the Department of Forests for establishing the park. These mines are great threat to endangered species, especially the markhore and the musk deer.”
He said an NOC from his department was “an essential prerequisite” for mining in and around parks, and that it had not issued any such NOC.
The Director, Geology & Mining, Khurshid Ahmad Khan admitted that his department had not been seeking clearance from the Department of Wildlife. He said “now they seek clearance from wildlife authorities in such cases.”
The miners say they haven’t done anything wrong, and have followed procedure. Says Ghulam Mohammad Mir, president, Lease Holders’ Association, “No mine lessee has violated forest or wildlife norms. We followed all procedures that the government asked us to fulfill.”
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