Category Archives: Public Services

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.

Pahalgam shopping complex remains undone

By Daily Excelsior – 29/05/2019
Imagine and conjecture, guess or assess whatever, one would find sixteen long years insufficient for Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) for building and completing a shopping complex of absolutely normal size and structure in the famous tourist place of Pahalgam in Kashmir and making it fit for occupancy. The pinch of paying and waiting is felt by none other than the shopkeepers, the ultimate beneficiaries, who would have liked to occupy the spacious shops allotted to them much earlier.
The affected shopkeepers lament that while they paid “hefty” sums to the Authority, the PDA was just handing over the incomplete and faulty structures and space to them. The allotment is nowhere and the long wait of the desirous shopkeepers after having deposited the requisite monies of Rs. 20 lakh and Rs. 16 lakh respectively depending on the size of the shop, was yielding no results excepting getting “things” in dilapidated and faulty conditions. Not only this, the quality of the construction is said to be below the average levels as in rains, there are leakages and seepages in these constructed shops. The shopkeepers are, instead, asked to take possession of incomplete, defective and unfinished shop spaces which obviously they cannot as they have to keep their merchandise in good saleable condition and attract the customers. The tangle needs to be settled at an early date and we urge the authorities to have the problem resolved.