Category Archives: Hot issues

Pahalgam’s New Master Plan is still a Mirage

A new master plan was drafted and it is waiting for its implementation for the last nine years.
By MAJID YOUSUF ATTAR Srinagar, June 18, 2019, Originally published in Greater Kashmir
My hometown is a tourist’s delight. Guest is our soul. We sacrifice our comfort to make visitors feel home. But to my utter shock and disbelief, Pahalgam is not a virgin tourist spot anymore. My dad was a shutterbug. His frames are a historical archive to prove that Pahalgam had been married to nature.

My dear father, a veteran photographer is no more but his photographs are the real asset. Thirty years down the line, Pahalgam has lost its essence. In 2010, a PIL was filed in the honourable high court of Jammu and Kashmir to revive the 1980s master plan, full of loopholes, a new master plan was drafted and it is waiting for its implementation for last nine years. The elite and big guns from various corners of the valley have managed to build hotels and resorts while locals are being denied even minor repairs in their households. Roaring glacier’s with gurgling waters were the specialty of my place. Woods were akin to green carpet. Lush green meadows are naked now. There was no hazardous fencing around hotels and big bungalows. Why is it being done? And who is doing it? Why no action against big fish? Pahalgam was our pride but is gar ko aag lagi gar kay chiraag sai. The brazen violation and the loot in increasing ceaselessly under the nose of administration.

Established some 40 years ago with the sole aim to make Kashmir’s Switzerland picture perfect, Pahalgam Project Organization has completely failed so far. Renamed as Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) in 2003, the organization has much to answer. New parks were demarcated in the Master Plan and large tracts of agricultural land and natural green spaces were converted into parks. Every park was fenced and people were required to pay an entry fee. The idea of making artificial enclosures in the wilderness is unfathomable. It is like holding captive, God’s creation and handiwork. Like ugly smudges across a heavenly picture.

The rich authoritarian regime of PDA spent money on ill-planned projects and unnatural obstacles. They fiddled with woods. It turned disastrous for the environment. Not even single environmental engineer, urban planner, landscaper or a biodiversity specialist was consulted to draft the plan. I fail to understand why is forest land being fenced? Why is this contractor mafia turning once virgin spot a disturbingly ugly place? Why is district administration has maintained criminal silence over the years? Landfills can be seen on river banks. Open spaces are shrinking? The construction boom has mauled its beauty. There is no concept of Sewage Treatment Plant {STPs}. For this purpose, once pristine Lidder river is used mutually. Unnecessary concrete bridges have been constructed for unknown reasons. Not a single rope-way bridge is here. The worst hit is Betab Valley. Years ago the only access to the meadow was a fallen tree that acted as a bridge. Everything else was untouched. Today it is a man-made park with pathways and gazebos.

Another meadow called Baisaran, which lies in the deep forests (around 6KM uphill walk from Pahalgam market) has been again fenced. A huge concrete entry block sits like an eyesore at the entrance. Have we any idea what we are doing with nature? Every new year is hotter than the previous one and winters are much drier then they used to be. We are moving towards an ice age. Spring and autumn season is gone. We are still in deep slumber. Untreated sewage, polluted rivers, depleting fish, shrinking forest cover due to smuggling and forest fires, Pahalgam is losing its sheen. Almost 74 percent of the waste (12 metric tonnes monthly) is generated by hotels and restaurants according to a report by Municipal Committee Pahalgam. All of the waste without even proper segregation goes to a landfill which is on the bank of river stream near Ganishbal Pahalgam.

Even our high altitude lakes haven’t been spared. The Sheshnag lake (source of Lidder) is the worst hit. It receives tons of garbage during Amarnath yatra. In 2016 alone, tons of garbage was brought down from the Sheshnag base camp. The two-month long yatra brings all forms of pollution with it. It mercilessly defiles this land, it’s air and its waters. As this was not enough, we have the rumble of helicopters tearing through the silence every fifteen minutes. This highly politicized ‘pilgrimage’ has catastrophic climatic consequences.

The idea of Shiva as a God is one of calm reflection and serenity. Of purity and silence. This yearly cacophony of sounds and contamination must make his spirit restless. It must make him angry. It is time to mend our ways and to introspect. It will be wise for us all to remember: Lord Shiva’s wrath, his third eye. At this rate, the day is not far before Pahalgam becomes another concrete jungle in the mountains. Its beauty relegated to picture books and movie scenes. Its sight and sounds lost in the nostalgic stories that we will narrate to our next generation. For them, it will be fiction. What will we do now to preserve our legacy?

The Author is a Naropa Fellow-class of 2018-19.

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