October 5, 1998
The state of the environment of any place is an indication of its spiritual health. The validity of this proposition is borne out, in a striking manner, by the case of Kashmir. Here, nature has endowed the Valley with beautiful gifts, but the inner forces of matter and mind are stamping these gifts out of existence at a rapid pace.
Let me give an example from my personal experience the memory of which has sprung up in my mind after reading The Indian Express report of September 15: `Jammu & Kashmir government slashes through a national park’.
A vast area of about 907 hectares of land in Srinagar, littered with trees, shrubs and wild growth, was lying neglected near Pari Mahal, Shankaracharya hill and Zeethyar hills. It was being subjected to encroachments and vandalism.
After taking over as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, while going to my first public function on May 9, 1984, I noticed the above area. In my speech, I referred to it and said: “This area has great potential for development into aCity Forest.” In his speech, the Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, warmly applauded the idea. Nothing was done either by Abdullah or G.M. Shah who followed him. The area continued to be in a state of neglect.
During Governor’s Rule, I ordered that this area be developed into a city forest, a sort of natural woodland within the Srinagar metropolis. The entire land was fenced with chain-links. Keeping intact the natural topography, walkways were created for the walkers. Nature was restored to its pristine simplicity and charm. Barren and desolate chunks were earmarked for fresh plantation. A conservation centre was also set up in the old dilapidated building. It was adapted to the need for holding exhibitions, painting competitions and for showing films on nature and wild-life. In one corner, a wild-life sanctuary was also created. The project became the talk of the Valley nay, of the entire state.
All this has been destroyed. Gone are the walkways, the springs, the wild-life created. Gone also are thehundreds of trees and shrubs. A huge sprawling and artificial golf course is being laid at a phenomenal cost. A thing of beauty has been mutilated. Instead, an `elite course’ which could, if at all justified, have been constructed anywhere else, has been created.
For me, it is a matter of great personal pain and anguish. One cannot bear the sight of one’s own creation being destroyed. But, for the general public, it is an act of grave injustice. The golf course would not help in the growth of Srinagar tourism. On an average, only two or three foreign tourists play golf in Srinagar during summer and that too on non-rainy days.
These tourists are not golf-minded and they hardly spend anything on the game. Srinagar climate being what it is, the foreign tourists generally move to cooler resorts like Gulmarg and Pahalgam.
Now, a huge tract, extending to several kilometres, would have to be maintained. Scores of golf boys and staff would have to be appointed. It will consume millions of gallons of water. Inbrief, the pattern of development, which is simple, inexpensive and capable of enhancing the quality of the common man’s life, and is beneficial to the overwhelming majority of the people, has been abandoned in favour of a highly expensive, elite-oriented, lop-sided pattern.
The beauties and bounties of nature are being destroyed, instead of being improved. This is borne out by the fate of Kashmir’s lakes, rivers, forests, soil etc. The famous Dal Lake, which was described by Abul Fazal as the “delight of the world”, has shrunk from 24 sq. km to about 10 sq. km. The fate of the other lakes such as Wullar and Mansbal is not different.
The River Jhelum, the lifeline of the Valley, is getting silted at an alarming speed. The Pohru catchment area alone sends 24 lakh cubic feet of slit into it every year.
If India has to avoid an environmental and ecological catastrophe, the attitude and outlook of the ruling elites must change.
The writer is an MP and former governor of J&K
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