A beauty called Budgam!

This abode of Sheikh-ul-Alam stands vandalized…

Valley of Kashmir once known for its alluring beauty is fast losing its charm at the hands of its own people. Its flora is vanishing, fauna getting extinct and the once enthralling environs vandalized by none other than the Kashmiri people themselves. Polluted water bodies and water ways; encroached meadows and denuded peaks is now a common sight almost in every part of the valley. But after all this plunder I am hopeful and optimistic about the bright future for this divine place. Budgam the resting place of famous and most revered Kashmiri saint Sheikh-ul-Alam, Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali (Nund Rishi) is one of the scenic districts of Kashmir and has got unique topography with vast and prominent Karewas. The terraces and ravines dotting most of the Budgam district categorize it into a distinctive landscape most often vulnerable to soil erosion, particularly the gully erosion. Earlier Budgam had an outstanding forest cover beyond its extended mountain range and even the Karewas in lower belts were dotted with conifer groves and other forest cover. Fruit trees like almond, walnut and pear were the pride of Budgam. But now the conifers are replaced with tall brick kiln chimneys and instead of fruit trees cell phone towers and concrete structures are growing out of well drained sand and clay soil combination of Karewas. Even after merciless and vandalistic greed that has consumed a huge chunk of Budgam’s ecosystem and splendor a considerable amount can be revived and preserved for posterity with honest and dedicated efforts of conservation.

Presently the most brazen environmental violation in Budgam is existence of countless number of both legal (by legal I mean with permission) and illegal brick kilns on the face of beautiful and rich Karewas. The number of these brick kilns has almost quadrupled during the last one decade and have attained menacing proportions both in numbers and appearance. These Kilns are environmental disasters that rob the mother earth of its much valued top soil. Kilns usually fired with carbon monoxide emitting coal and sometimes with old and discarded rubber tyres by money-oriented owners add a whole lot of toxic pollutants to the atmosphere. The brick kilns in Budgam are a mafia inspired saga managed by monstrous multi faceted evil spirit of corruption. Violation of land use, abuse of pollution control norms and ultimately the defacement of scenery and destruction of ecosystem is the hallmark of these kilns. A big cartel of land grabbers, middlemen and their unprincipled mentors manage this show with an invisible hand of power and authority patronizing the murky trade.
I have traversed through almost all of Budgam district since 1996 when I first visited the district as soil conservation expert. Later as tourist destination developer I had the privilege to visit most remote picturesque areas of the district continuously for almost six years and now in 2013 the experience is altogether different where I am trying my hand in a diverse field of Agriculture extension. Every time I travelled in length and breadth of Budgam the sight of these brick kilns was always painful and at occasions I would curse the managers of this state for allowing this nuisance of a trade to flourish unabatedly.   As a small sarkari fry my role is not only humble but limited as well. This noble assignment of extension and educating farmers has put me on cross roads where I am caught between the deep sea of my humble responsibility and the devil of brick kilns vandalizing the farm land. With very small authority I tried to assert myself in my own way and capacity. Thus, on the subject of NOC (No Objection Certificate) for erecting a brick kiln I endorsed the field report without any addition or alteration to the satisfaction of mother earth and in the honor of unpolluted environment. The just and genuine report, otherwise, adverse for the sponsors infuriated many particularly the favor seeking vandals along with their masters. They first tried to fix me with carrot and now they have resorted to the old and time tested trick of stick. So, presently I am virtually caught in a vortex of coercion and intimidation. God knows how far this stick will stretch and how long this bullying will go on? As a conscious citizen and a qualified sarkari karamchari I have informed the concerned authorities about the stick and its possible jeopardizing effects on my work and personal safety. How much time it will take to decide only the system knows? Till then I am at the mercy of Almighty, tending bruises inflicted on my psyche by the invisible mafia.