Nature had been kind enough to Kashmir and had bestowed it with endless features of beauty and ambience of serenity. Kashmir was blessed with dense forests, mountains, crystal clear streams, lush green meadows, water bodies and much more making it God’s favoured land. It seems God had shaped Kashmir with extreme patience. The overall landscape of Kashmir is so breath taking even now that any visitor to this heavenly abode gets mesmerized by the enchanting atmosphere of this land. Kashmir had been attracting people from all parts of world since long and available travelogues of some travellers from time to time give the real picture of Kashmir where beauty of the land and virginity of other features is the essence of their documentations.
Up to the commencement of twentieth century Kashmir was almost untouched with every aspect of nature intact and away from the brute tampering hands of mankind. With initiation of modernization in production processes and industrialization greed of mankind grew unimpeded and to follow his materialistic urge mankind’s first victim were natural resources and immediate environs, resulting in enormous damage to the fragile ecosystem. To feed the swelling population and their selfish urge human beings resorted to loot and plundering of natural resources with impunity at the behest of political patrons. Forest land and other parts of the landscape were the first victims of human intervention. Large parts of forests were cleaned out to create vast patches of cultivable and residential land and much of landscape tampered to implement selfish ventures. Over the period of time unrestricted tampering with the nature lead to disturbance in the ecosystem resulting in erosion of precious top soil, endangering, and disappearance of certain flora and fauna, inviting floods and forcing water scarcity.
Democracy brings emancipation and freedom in every sphere of life but premature and defective democracy encourages greed flourishes vandalism. First ray of emancipation brought new breed of political plunderers to limelight that fell on the natural resources like vultures at the instance of their political mentors. This unending loot is going on unabated and the mother earth in Kashmir is being denuded and de-shaped. After abolition of autocratic rule the brutal tampering with the ecosystem of Kashmir and loot of natural resources not only continued but its pace increased many folds with a sense of right and pride. Vandalizing natural resources and ecosystem has endangered every aspect of life in Kashmir and loss and damage is irreversible and irreparable in certain fields.
Forest cover and forest area has reduced considerable over last six decades converting maximum of encroached land into cultivable land without any proper scientific approach and creation of required infrastructure. Interference with forests leads to extinction of many plant species animals and disturbance of animal habitat resulting in human animal conflict which is very common nowadays in countryside. Forest and other vegetative cover play an important role in the water cycle particularly in Kashmir situated on higher altitudes. Any tampering with these ground covers will bring disasters turning places like Kashmir into cold deserts over a period of time.
After forests the most stressed aspect of our ecosystem by the human interference is water resources and water bodies. Kashmir once a place of pristine lakes, gushing streams, and bubbling springs now tells a different story of neglect, encroachment, and pollution of water and water bodies. If travelogues and history notes are any testimony to facts, Dal Lake once would kiss the forest line under the foot hills of Zabarwan range but today huge dwellings in this part and remaining periphery of the lake has shrunk the lake into a big cesspool emitting foul smell at places. Nigeen Lake is ailing. Anchar and Khushal sar are near extinction. Waular Lake once considered Asia’s largest sweet water Lake is shrinking with every passing day. Other Lakes are no different and human intervention is eating these water bodies and pushing them to extinction. Kashmir has a unique water carrying system where water flows down from glaciers on the mountain peaks cascading over big and small boulders through forests leading to serpentine water channels, streams and ultimately into the life line of Kashmir River Jhelum. Jhelum earlier would cater to every need of Kashmiries from portable water and irrigation to navigation and recreation requirements. Now the same river with the indifference of the Kashmiries this historic river now serves only purpose to carry all the effluence of the Sun City (Srinagar) and other major towns on its banks making it most contaminated river loaded with toxic waste and fatal microorganisms.
For last many decades vast portion of Kashmir landscape particularly within the plains of the valley had been disturbed to make ways for so-called modernization and ill conceived development. Nature has its own system of evolution, and development of natural features any disturbance of this system in any way leads to disasters. Flow of water from catchments down to the plains craft some water features and other landscape structures of varying contour levels to ensure proper harvesting of water to recharge the depleting water table and giving smooth way to rushing water and ensuring localized drainage. Undulations, depressions, and other contours are crafted by the nature in harmony with the surroundings and as a result natural and beautiful landscape takes shape. Disturbing this natural setup of landscape features over the period of time has disturbed the soil cover, drainage potentials and over all beauty of Kashmir. Some glaring examples are huge excavation and filling of earth for railway project and other major road projects; filling of small water bodies like Nambal (swamp) and Rakhs (swamps with plantation of Salix) in many parts of the valley by land mafia.
Conversion of vast patches of cultivable irrigated land into habitations is another clear pattern of intrusion into the ecosystem. This change in nature of topography has further stressed the forest land and we are also losing precious crops especially grown in the pleasant climate of Kashmir. This is how we are experiencing receding trend in ‘saffron’ and other important horticulture and floriculture crop production. Other crops with unique aroma and taste of Kashmir have died down with every leap of land grabbers and real estate mafia.
Authorities are watching helplessly as some unscrupulous revenue employees and land sharks have tied a symbiotic knot to change the title and rights of land to their choice at their will. State land use board (SLUB) a vital administrative and technical authority in matters and policy devising for land use has been turned into a dumping place for undesired officers and has been confined to a dingy room of civil secretariat.
Sir Walter Lawrence in his settlement report (commonly known as bandhubast in Kashmir) had classified every piece of land in Kashmir as per its location, utility and requirement with minimum scope for conflict, confusion and violation of land use norms as prescribed by nature. Today Lawrence Sahib’s settlement document has been torn into tatters of greed and selfishness by the termites of corruption and favouritism.
Mother earth in this otherwise charming valley is crying! Crying to seek succour from someone who can get it out of this mess. If Kashmir keeps on facing brute hands and apathy of its inhabitants for their materialistic urge, this once heaven of God’s creations will turn into a place of destruction, misery and curse.