Category Archives: Hot issues

Amusement park to be shifted from Pahalgam?

From a news item appearing in Greater Kashmir, it looks like the amusement park may be shifted from Pahalgam. While there could be a long list of reasons that why the park needs to there, to why it was put in the first place, most “amusing” are the reasons being cited for moving the park. Dyes flowing from the amusement park into Lidder?? Give me a break – its a park, not a pigment and dye chemicals factory!
Yes its an eye sore, yes its artificial; no, its now very much a part of Pahalgam and a good way of spending a day. It provides a means of entertainment to people who come in looking for an activity to do, who need an agenda beyond local sight seeing.
The news items below from Mr. Khalid Gul aptly covers people’s view on the topic.

It might as well be left there, now that it is there….

GK – Pahalgam, Apr 17, 2010: The government is understood to have given its green signal to the proposal of shifting the amusement park at Pahalgam to some other location which will cost more than Rs 5 crore.
The amusement park was established by the Jammu and Kashmir Bank at a cost of Rs 3 crores on 48 kanal land in the midst of dense pine forests. The park generates an income of Rs 60 lakh per annum. Now, shifting of the park to other location would cost the JK Bank some Rs 5 crore, sources said.
They said that the proposal has been approved by the Chief Minister and the amusement park would be shifted to the outskirts of the tourist resort, most probably to nearby Yaner, or Aishmuqam, 17 kilometres from Pahalgam.
Initially, establishment of the amusement park in 2003 had attracted criticism from environmentalists who were of the view that a pristine mountain resort had been spoiled.
One of the biggest concerns of ecological activists was that the dyes from an artificial stream that run into the amusement park’s pool were emptying into Lidder River. Besides, they were of the view that the park was not blending with the scenic beauty of this resort and would definitely pollute this place.
“People come here to enjoy natural beauty and not to get distracted by man-made machines. I don’t know from where the idea to set up this park came,” said an environmentalist, who claimed that even the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) was not consulted on the project.
Now the government’s plan of shifting the park is seen as a welcome move. They even suggested some urban area like Islamabad town as the new destination.
Environmentalist Dr Mubashir Jeelani said, “I am not aware about the pouring of dyes into the Lidder River and its quantity. If the quantity is low then due to its dilution effect it would not have any effect but if the quantity is large then the carcinogenic elements present in them would definitely destroy the flora and fauna and also render the water unfit for drinking.”
He suggested collecting these dyes in drums and scientific disposal of other waste products.
Pertinently, the State Pollution Control Board had then directed the government to set an effluent treatment plant in the park to deal with the waste products and also called for more trees to be planted to make the park blend better with the surroundings. Though trees were planted but the effluent treatment plant was never set up.
“I will be soon seeking the status report of the amusement park and see if they are following all the guidelines,” said S Farooq Gillani, Regional Director, Kashmir, State Pollution Control Board.
Despite environmentalists’ concerns, the project has been embraced by common Kashmiris longing for some entertainment. The locals also welcomed the move but now the proposal of shifting the park has let them down and they term it as politically motivated rather than an attempt to save Pahalgam.
“If they are so concerned about the beauty of Pahalgam then they should first stop the construction of illegal huts and hotels and also stop the pouring of waste into the Lidder by big hotels and restaurants,” said a local resident, Mushtaq Ahmad, adding that the step was aimed to benefit the cohorts of some local politicians.
“Aishmuqam and Yaner where the government is planning to shift the park are in no way urban areas. Lidder River passes from these two places too and would disturb the environs there too,” he said, adding that the J&K Bank had planted many trees around the area and is taking care of the wastes scientifically.

Construction of high-rise buildings in Pahalgam

News organization ANI has recently reported a new controversy around construction of high rise buildings in Pahalgam. Classic case of pitting development against preservation of natural environments. A question which becomes out of ordinary in case of a hill resort like Pahalgam where natural environment is what all the play is about.
Here’s the news item:

Pahalgam (J-K), Dec 20 (ANI): Construction work of high-rise buildings is in full swing in Jammu and Kasmir’s Pahalgam region despite the authorities imposing a ban on such activities.

Sensing the adverse effects of the pristine area turning into a concrete jungle, the concerned authorities of Pahalgam had declared an embargo on any new constructions here.

However, despite the ban, the construction work hasn’t stopped and work is in progress at a good number of commercial and residential projects.

Upset at these trends, the locals apprehend that soon the natural beauty of Pahalgam will be eclipsed and it may be no different from other metropolitan cities.

‘The natural beauty is getting destroyed. The Pahalgam we are seeing today is completely different from the Pahalgam, which used to be 20 years ago. Today the region is becoming like any metropolitan city. We have no clue that who is behind all these construction activities. Such infrastructural changes might prove harmful for our coming generations,’ said Manzoor, a resident.

On their part, the officials claim that they are doing their best to stop the encroachments and illegal constructions in the region.

‘We will not allow any kind of dozers in Pahalgam whether they are contractors of government or of any private companies. We will not allow dozers till PDA (Pahalgam Development Authority) permits so that non stop operations can be avoided,’ said Abdul Wahid Tak, Executive Officer, Pahalgam Development Authority.

Despite repeated recommendations by the departments of Tourism as well as Ecology and Environment for imposing a five-year moratorium on building activity in the commercial sector in Pahalgam, concrete structures continue to rise at a fast pace.

Local issue – Golf or Grazing? Or just Politics?

Prepare Pahalgam to lure tourist by way of a good Golf Course, or provide the same land so that cattle and horses can use it for grazing? This dilemma is rocking Pahalgam. Is it a really a valid local issue, or really just part of local politics? See the news coverage below, and contribute your opinion.

(Agencies) Srinagar, Jul 12  Hundreds of villagers todayprotested against the state government demanding removal of the fencing around under-construction golf course in Pahalgam tourist resort in south Kashmir.

Nearly 250 villagers assembled at the local bus stand and raised slogans against the government demanding the removal of the fencing as they use the land around the golf course for grazing their animals, official sources said.  Police tried to persuade them to disperse but when they refused, they resorted to lathi-charge and lobbed tear gas shells, the sources said.  Later the local shopkeepers also closed the market against the alleged highhandedness of police in dealing with the protesters, the sources said.    Meanwhile, a government spokesman denied the charges and claimed that the police saved PDP legislator Mohammad Rafi Mir from a furious mob which attacked his hotel in Pahalgam raising slogans against the party.

Locals turn violent over shrinking grazing lands in Pahalgam

From etalaat (Abid Gani Wani):

Pahalgam July 12: Massive protests erupted in the world famous health resort of Pahalgam in the south Kashmir’s Islamabad district on Sunday where the protestors were demanding the return of land where the government has constructed golf course three years back.

The protestors turned violent and broke windscreens of vehicles and staged a sit in near the hospital. The angry residents pelted stones on the caravan of the local MLA Mohammad Rafi Mir and also broke the window panes of Volga hotel owned by the MLA.

Local residents accused that the government has increased their worries by turning grazing land into golf course. Mohammad Amin, one of the residents told this newspaper that there is no space available for their cattle and horses to graze.

“We do not need golf course but a grazing field for our cattle and horses who are dying due to lack of fodder. The golf course will not feed the empty belly of our cattle and horses,” said Amin.

Another resident Gulzar said that most of the locals earn their livelihood by horse riding and put tjhem into the grazing lands to graze during nights.

“Now there is no place in the Pahalgam where we can put our cattle for grassing. We are passing through tough times as we have no alternative other than sell our cattle and horses due to non availability of fodder,” he said.

Six persons including five lady constables were injured when the protestors turned violent. The protestors stop the movement of vehicles and forced the shopkeepers to down their shutters.

Meanwhile police succeeded in protecting PDP MLA, Rafi Mir, when furious mob attacked his hotel and were raising slogans against him and his party.

According to Police, PSO of Mir fired from his official weapon when he realized that violent mob was advancing towards them. The mob ransacked and pelted stones on the hotel of Mir at Pahalgam.

DIG and Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag reached to Pahalgam to bring situation under control and ensure no harm was allowed to be inflicted by the protestors on Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mir. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was later safely rushed back from Pahalgam.

An enquiry into the circumstances which led to firing by PSO on orders of PDP MLA while controlling the mob has been ordered.

Station house officer Pahalgam talking to this news paper said that the situation has been brought under control and traffic has restored.

Pahalgam incident, a concoction to divert attention: PDP

Etalaat News Service

Srinagar, July 12: Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said that government is using its men and machinery for diverting attention from the unrest against the six months old government and was resorting to baseless stories against its political rivals.

Describing the government information department’s handout on the incident in Pahalgam as a fragment of imagination, a PDP spokesman said that that the tale about the protest being against Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was concocted only to offset the grim reality of Abdullah household having being stoned for the first time in history today.

The spokesman, in a statement issued here today, said that it was ironic that only yesterday the National Conference led government had accused PDP of engineering the trouble on the streets of Kashmir and today when some women of Pahalgam demonstrated against the government on some land compensation issue the spin doctors of beleaguered government have now tried to present it as an anti-PDP demonstration.

Giving the facts of the incident at Pahalgam, the spokesman said that some people, mostly women, of Pahalgam village were demonstrating against insufficient compensation paid to them for the land which the government had acquired some times back.

Instead of listening to them the police as usual resorted to brute force including firing in air to disperse the protestors. The protest demonstration was held in the market in Pahalgam market where PDP MLA Mr Rafi Mir owns a property, the spokesman said adding, the MLA had contacted IGP and asked him to hold his men back from using force against the protestors but the IGP Kashmir advised him to talk to SSP Anantnag on the issue. The SSP in-turn told the MLA that he would visit the spot which he never did, the statement said.

“Mufti Muhammad Sayeed at that time was more then a kilometer away from the spot with his family and there was no question of the demonstrators having raised slogans against PDP unless NC and police combined wanted them to do so”, he said.

The spokesman said that infect earlier in the day the NC workers had pelted stones on the house of NC patron Dr Farooq Abdullah on the highly guarded Gupkar Road. The incident, he said, is first of its kind in the eighty year old history of National conference and Abdullah household. It is obvious that the government and its political tools, police and information department, should have tried to find a way to divert attention of the people from this important happening.

The Pahalgam incident, he said, apparently came in handy and was twisted to suit the occasion. He suggested the government that instead of resorting to such tactics, it should focus on the mitigating the sufferings of the people

Update on polls in Pahalgam constituency

Here is a comprehensive piece on current political situation in Pahalgam, vis-a-vis the upcoming Assembly Polls. Its by Mr. Khalid Gul and published in Greater Kashmir.

Pahalgam, Nov 19: In Pahalgam an interesting contest is in the offing. Two prominent former National Conference leaders, Muhammad Rafi Mir and Irfan Ahmad Bhat are in the fray against a new face, Altaf Kaloo, nominated by the party this time.
Pahalgam sent Mehbooba Mufti the president of People’s Democratic Party and her father Mufti Muhammad Sayed to the state legislative assembly in 2002 assembly elections and 2004 bye-elections. Mufti realized his dream of a win in the Valley after 22 years from this constituency. In both the elections Muhammad Rafi Mir of National Conference lost narrowly to the father-daughter duo, even though he was a favorite. This time he is fighting as the candidate of PDP, which has groomed this constituency for the past nearly a decade. 
Polling would be held here in the 6th phase, and it would witness a triangular contest between PDP, National Conference (NC), and Congress.
Muhammad Rafi Mir was denied a mandate and he quickly switched over to PDP, giving up decades of association with NC. He is said to have a good voter base. A new face, Altaf Kaloo known to the people here more as a businessman than a politician, will contest as the NC candidate. Irfan Ahmad Bhat, son of former Congress leader Ghulam.Nabi Bhat, who parted ways with the National- Conference after he was denied a mandate has been approved by the Screening Committee of the Congress for candidature from Pahalgam, according to Congress sources.
Muhammad Rafi Mir has an edge over his rivals for two reasons. First, he has a support base in the two most populous villages of the constituency- Sallar and Wullarhama. Second, the differences within the ranks of NC workers caused over the mandate to candidates would help Mir.
A political analyst attributed the defeat of Mir in 2002 elections to his contesting elections on ticket of the party which the people of the constituency always accused of ignoring the area.
Altaf has a support base in upper belts of Aishmuqam and Seer Hamdan, but political analysts here believe the people of these areas are not likely to cast votes, as they participated in the massive pro-independence rallies. 
Irfan might find supporters in Kullar and Liver villages–as populous as Sallar and Wullarhama—and also in the Gujjar community.
Mir and Irfan deserted National Conference, accusing the party leadership of being corrupt and ignoring the people of their constituency.
Though the constituency according to the people saw overall development in all the basic sectors but they blame the PDP regime for disturbing the ecosystem of the world famous tourist resort of Pahalgam.
“During the PDPs rule many of the constructions came up in the green belt here and only the influential people with the patronage of the government were benefited,” said the Abdul Razak of Pahalgam.
They also accused the PDP regime of not doing enough to stop the wanton loot of forests in the belt.
The constituency has 70,032 voters with 35,686 male and 32,973 females. In 1996 the poll percentage was 16 percent, and in 2002 it was 26.

Amarnath pilgrims can stay in Pahalgam hotels

In a decision of great significance to tourists and locals alike, the authorities agreed to let tourists and Amarnath Yatris stay in Pahalgam area hotels.

News item: Srinagar: The Amarnth pilgrims will be totally free to stay in private hotels at Pahalgam during the two-month-long yatra, starting from June 18, Chief Executive Officer(CEO), Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) Arun Kumar said today.

Announcing the decision at a joint meeting of various departments and representatives of hoteliers, he said the yatris would be free to decide whether they wished to stay in hotels or in the Nunwan camp. The hoteliers and other traders were protesting that their business was affected when the base camp was shifted to Nunwan.
He said it has been decided to regulate tourist and pilgrim movements to Pahalgam and to the base camp of the yatra at Nunwan.

The Serbal security check post would also be relocated near Nunwan and the usual tourist traffic diverted to Pahalgam via a circuit road. Dr Kumar said the new plan of action was revealed under which a booth would be established near the check point to serve as an information counter regarding availability of accommodation in the picturesque valley for desirous pilgrims. The CEO said with this measure, tourists from outside could visit Pahalgam even during the yatra period without any obstacles. The measure, he said, would boost the occupancy of hotels even when schools reopen in the rest of the country after the summer vacations. ”’We want pilgrims to stay anywhere they like. In fact, the Shrine Board is not averse to shifting of the Nunwan base camp to its traditional and ancient location of Sadhu Paraw, ahead of Pahalgam that will be beneficial for all, the hoteliers, craft dealers and local traders,” Dr Kumar said.

River rafting in Pahalgam – status 2008 and the players involved

Sight seeing, pony-rides or do-nothing vacationing aside, what really can Pahalgam offer to visiting tourists? Come to think of it, Pahalgam has its own gold mine in the form of meandering river lidder, and miles and miles of it both from Aru and Chandanwari which offer a great, world class opportunity for river rafting. Thus far, it seems like the officials have failed to realize what they are sitting on. It has been left onto small time entrepreneurs to harness this opportunity. And like the story of rest of India, they are able to pull through, inspite of all the odds. But only till a point. Objections are now being raised from many quarters.
I am optimistic that its only a matter of time when the Pahalgam Development Authority, or Tourism Department or the Fisheries Department will put their act together and lay out a holistic plan which will benefit both the locals and the tousists, and put Pahalgam on the world map of premier river rafting destinations.

At its core, whitewater rafting is simply the act of taking a raft down through turbulent areas of a river. These turbulent areas are known as rapids. Rapids are classified by six categories. Category 1 is a smooth river with no rapids. The categories climb from their too Category 6, which is either impassible or should only be attempted by experts. Most river rafting trips occur on Category 3 and 4 rapids, where the turbulence gives you an exciting ride, but with limited risk. Pahalgam from Chandanwari to Nunwan offers all 6 categories of rapids.

There seem to be three major government agencies involved in the issue. Looks like while Tourism Department would like to encourage the activity, the PDA and Fisheries department hold an opposing view. Or atleast have expressed their cocerns, to make their side of the point. The concerns and issues are genuine, though not insurmountable. Yes, you don’t want to spread garbage, you dont want to effect fauna and fishes, you want to cover the risk via some insurance cover, or at least no-liability paperwork. But at the end of it, this all is doable with proper guidelines and implementation.

Rafting provides a big economic opportunity for locals. One way to handle this is to make co-operatives of local low income people, including ponywallahs, and have them operate the rafting agencies in collaboration with experienced tour operators. This will ensure that tourist’s share of disposable budget doesn’t only go to tour operators from outside. There should only be a handful of agencies allowed, and the bigger thing is that the annual contracts should be openly auctioned off. The generated revenue should be shared amongst PDA, Tourism Department and Fisheries or Forest department to provide for facilities. Forest department can get parking fees for vehicles, Fisheries department can get to sell fishing licences. PDA can get its share to keep the area clean and tourim department can promote the facilities internationally. So on and so on…

From a news coverage in GreaterKashmir dated 5/24/2008, this is how the players/interested parties stack up:

Pahalgam Development Authority
Chief Executive Officer, Pahalgam Development Authority, (PDA), Abdul Rasheed Parray said: “While the pollution caused by the rafting affects the flora and fauna of the region, the garbage damages the shores of the Lidder river as it is not being disposed off properly.”

Fisheries Department
Fisheries Department that has raised objections to the rafting in famous Lidder Nallah here citing “disturbance of fish habitat.”
Joint Director Fisheries, Kashmir, Showkat Ali said, “The rafting boats definitely affect the flora and fauna and disturb the habitat of the fish. The government should wake up to the call and instead select some other rivers for rafting.” According to Ali the rafting agencies are violating the Fisheries Act and are operating the rafting without getting no-objection from the department.

Ponnywallahs and locals
The ponnywallas and the residents here have also objected the rafting. “Pahalgam has its own charm and people don’t visit here for rafting, so tourism department should never have given the permission to the local agencies for rafting,” said Mohu-din a local.

Tourism Department
Director Tourism Farooq Shah, however disagrees that the rafting will create pollution. “If our youth want to earn their livelihood then why this fuss,” Shah said. He said the department’s job was only to register the agencies and the permission is given after due consultation with the PDA.

Rafting Agencies
However, the owners of the rafting firms said the rafting boats don’t create any pollution. “We fail to understand how the rafting boats can affect the fauna and flora of the place and destroy the fish habitat,” they said. They said it speaks volumes about the wisdom of the authorities when they say that the garbage gets dumped into the water. “There is no connection between garbage and the rafting,” they said.

Location
Earlier (2005-2007) the rafting was conducted in Pahalgam itself. But following objections by the CEO, PDA, the spot was changed to Batakote, 2 kilometers away from here. Even as according to the application received by the PDA CEO only six agencies have been given permission by the tourism department for operation of commercial rafting, there are 13 companies presently operating their boats.  Besides, the agencies are operating more boats than permitted.

Ecological impact
Per PDA, though the agencies are strictly responsible for the disposal of the solid waste material and the cleanliness of the area, the tourism department is not taking any action against the violators.
On complaints about improper disposal of waste material, Tourism Department’s Farooq said, “The PDA has been assigned the job of looking after the proper disposal of waste material and it should create facilities to ensure pollution free environment.”

Insurance
Most of the agencies according to the sources in the PDA do not have a necessary insurance cover for the raft guides and clients against risk/accident.
Shah however asked the PDA not to allow any agency to operate boats that doesn’t have proper insurance documents and violate any of the guidelines laid down by the tourism department.

Tarrif
The agencies are also charging more than the tariff fixed by the tourism department.

Hotel assosiation against construction in Nunwan, Pahalgam

Long duration of Amarnath Yatra is anyways creating tourism related disruptions in Pahalgam as many casual toursits shy away from the place during those weeks. Now come the sudden step of Amarnath Shrine Board constructing pre-fabricated huts at Nunwan, on the outskirts of Pahalgam. Long term this could start effecting the center of gravity of toursist economy of Pahalgam to outside of Pahalgam, towards Nunwan. While constructing lavatories could make sense if SASB persists with keeping Amarnath yatris out of Pahalgam in a secluded (and perhaps secure) Yatri Camp at Nunwan, the whole idea really needs to be abandoned so that people coming to Amarnath Yatra from all over the country can visit the hill station as normal tourists and enjoy the beauty of it. Of course with it would come the issues of ecological degradation of Pahalgam valley by activities of Yatris, but thats a different problem, and SASB or other wise men can surely arrive at solutions to it. Anyhow, this is a release from KHAROF, typically harsh in wordings, but nevertheless in the right direction. Its from the Gk News network.

Srinagar, May 19: The Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation (KHAROF) on Monday said the construction activities carried out by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) at Pahalgam are bound to damage the environment and ecology of the resort besides hurt the public sentiments.
 Acting on the news reports carried by this newspaper about Pahalgam, a KHAROF spokesman said the Federation members unanimously condemned “this anti-environmental, anti-ecological and anti-Pahalgam activities like construction of public lavatories, pre-fabricated huts on concrete plinths at Nunwan” by the SASB.
 “The tourism fraternity of Kashmir appeals to the government not to allow such activities which are bound to wipe out Pahalgam from the tourist map of the world,” a spokesman said in a statement. “And if the government fails to act immediately then the notion that the SASB is by itself a power centre—a state within itself—stand confirmed.”
 The spokesman said the tourism in Kashmir was bread and butter to a large populace, and Pahalgam being a famed tourist destination needs be preserved at any cost. “If such actions are not stopped, it would force us to go to any extent to save the place from human-inflicted injuries like massive constructions,” he said.
 The Federation also demanded that the Yatra period be restricted to 10 days as per the past practice. “Stretching the Yatra to two and a half months is degrading Pahalgam and its neighborhood environmentally and vandalizing it ecologically,” the spokesman added. “We humbly ask the powers that be to get up and save Pahalgam.”
 “It is ironical that few days back the Pahalgam Development Authority declared usage of rubber boats for rafting as an environmental hazard but at the same time it allows vandalism of Pahalgam.”