What Mughal Road didn’t that shrine land-transfer plans did

published on June 30, 2008

Author:Kavita Suri

Source: http://www.thestatesman.org/page.news.php?clid=2&theme=&usrsess=1&id=210771

JAMMU, June 29: Three years ago, when the then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammed Sayeed decided to revive the centuries-old Mughal Road in the region, no one in Kashmir even uttered a single word on the massive destruction of environment in Pir Panjal mountain ranges of the Himalayas.

The revival of the old Mughal Road which was once used by the great Mughals to travel to Kashmir from Lahore and its subsequent reconstruction ordered by Mufti Sayeed not only witnessed destruction of over 10,000 trees and 26 wild life sanctuaries but also fragmented the habitat of the highly-endangered wild Markhor goat. India is estimated to have a total population of only 300-200 of this species, which is found in southwest Kashmir’s Hirpora, Lachipora and Limber wildlife sanctuaries falling on Mughal Road.

Surprisingly, all the political parties remained silent over the issue of degradation of environment and destruction of the wild life sanctuaries due to the work on the Mughal Road
But when the Jammu and Kashmir government recently decided to transfer 40 hectares of forest land at Baltal and Domail for the proposed camping sites located on the right side of the Sindh River for the purpose of constructing temporary shelters for the Amarnath pilgrims, the political parties in Kashmir have opposed it tooth and nail on the pretext of environment degradation.

The issue had deeply polarised the entire state. Politicians and other organisations in Jammu see it as a deliberate move to suppress Hindu identity and communalisation in the region. “When 10,000 trees were cut and the habitat of the wild Markhor destroyed for the reconstruction of the Mughal Road, no one said anything but when SASB wanted to set up temporary shelters for two months only, there was an uproar,” Dr Nirmal Singh, member, national executive & former state president of the BJP said.

The PDP, National Conference and other parties were playing with fire by communalising the whole issue of the Amarnath Yatra and opposing the decision to transfer 800 kanals of land to SASB for creating facilities for pilgrims, he added. To prevent environmental destruction due to the work on the Mughal Road, a Kashmir-based NGO, Bio-diversity Conservation Trust had gone to Supreme Court arguing that construction work would affect the region’s biodiversity and the movement of wild animals, especially the Markhor goat.

The Wild Markhor is on IUCN’s Red List of highly endangered wild animals and is also named in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Jammu Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 (amended in 2002).

But in the case of SASB, the transfer of 800 kanals (40 hectares) of forest land was no issue at all. The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board had assured the government that it would take all possible environmental safeguards in consultation with the State Pollution Control Board to ensure that no damage is caused to the ecology of the area. “The SASB camping sites did not involve any area of Thajwas Wild Life Sanctuary, which is located on the left side of River Sindh. The Shrine Board had to use prefabricated structures for the camping purpose of the pilgrims and would not have gone for construction of permanent structures,” the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad had pointed out.

Raising a few pertinent questions, Dr Singh asked as to why no hue and cry was raised when the Mufti government transferred over 5,000 kanals of forest land to Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University at Rajouri which also affected the environment badly. No one uttered a single word then.

“Besides, Sharda Peeth university project was scuttled whereas government gave free land to Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University project and also free land was transferred to Islamic University at Awantipora in South Kashmir,” adds Dr Agnishekhar, president, Panun Kashmir. People in Jammu believe that all this points to the complete cleansing of the last vestiges of Hindu presence in the valley.

“The protagonists of this vicious tirade dub the holy Amarnath Yatra as a cultural invasion of Kashmir affecting its ecology, cultural identity and demography. Whatever ecological damage Kashmir has suffered is as a result of illegal felling of trees by land mafia in connivance with corrupt administration over the years,” said Dr Agnishekher adding the systematic reclamation of water bodies and continuous flow of waste materials into lakes like the famous Dal lake and uncontrolled construction activity has resulted in much more ecological damage than the Amarnath pilgrimage.

“An environmental impact assessment report to the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board regarding the Mughal Road clearly said that it would cut through 67 hectares of the Hirpora sanctuary disturbing the habitat of the Markhor. The cutting of many trees would have a cascading effect on the associated biota. Besides, traffic on the road may cause death of many animals that utilise verge habitats or try to cross the road. The presence of motor vehicles may introduce the potential for contamination of soil, air and water adjacent to the road and in the case of surface water, well beyond the immediate surroundings. Chronic contamination may become a problem for animal species, especially those at the top of the food chain.why there was no public outcry then,” asks Dr Agnishekher.

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