Dachigam – A Litany Of Betrayals
April 2011: The Dachigam National Park is undeniably one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. The Dagwan river that runs through it, a valley of flowers up in the hills at Sangargulu that rivals the better known Valley of Flowers National Park and the Marsar lake that nestles between tall ridges that rise up to more than 4,000 m. – all add to the stunning and tranquil vistas of this park.
Apart from the hangul deer that is now sadly on the verge of being wiped out, the park is home to black bear, leopard, musk deer and, in the upper reaches, the Himalayan grey langur, brown bear and even the snow leopard. Also heard are the high-pitched calls of long-tailed marmots and a variety of attractive avians including Eurasian Goldfinches, Red-browed Finches, Himalayan Rubythroats, Alpine Accentors, pipits and Grey Wagtails.
HERITAGE BEING TRASHED
The freshwater which flows through Dachigam is a vital source of water supply downstream in Srinagar. Even the well-known Dal Lake depends on Dachigam as it forms almost half its catchment area. This was acknowledged as early as 1910 by Maharaja Hari Singh who protected Dachigam as a private hunting preserve. Under the protection of the Maharaja, all human habitation was removed from the catchment area and resettled outside. In fact, Dachigam means 10 villages. Author and wildlife conservationist E.P. Gee estimated that there were around 1,000 to 2,000 hangul in 1947. Following Independence, the forest became a free-for- all and widespread poaching and encroachment resulted in much decline. Dachigam was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1951 but little else was done to ensure enforcement against the poaching of hangul. By 1954, only around 300 hangul remained. By 1970, hangul numbers had dropped to less than 170 and their range had drastically reduced. Graziers brought thousands of sheep, buffaloes and goats to feed on the high pastures of Upper Dachigam. Pine trees and silver birch stands were cut by the graziers to build their homes.
Further, a Government sheep breeding farm was established in the Lower Dachigam area that is prime hangul habitat. In winter, fodder is taken from the park to feed the sheep, disturbing the rutting season of the hangul. The sheep are also allowed to move into the Daghwan Valley (Upper Dachigam) in the summer months that add to the grazing menace of the Bakarwal graziers.
Though concerted efforts allowed hangul populations to recover to around 400 in the 1980s, today the park is crumbling again thanks to apathy, corruption and neglect. The felling of green kail Pinus griffithi trees is on-going, as is the felling of broadleaf trees for charcoal sale in winter. The sheep breeding farm with some 3,000 to 5,000 sheep continues to pose a huge pressure. A trout hatchery which was to be moved out emits pollutants into the Dagwan river and Dal Lake. The Water Works below Panchgama also poses disturbances with some 25 people working there. Encroachment is widespread, almost up to Brain from the gate. Some have even planted corn and fruit trees. Bears are stoned and barbed wire fences have been electrified to keep them away resulting in some deaths. In Upper Dachigam, from Pahlipora upwards, Gujjars have built semi-permanent dwellings all the way to Marsar and some even operate small hotels. The once picturesque Sangargulu habitat is littered with plastic and degraded by extensive grazing. Poaching continues to be a major problem. There are only around 25 guards, plus 50 retained as casual labour, which makes it difficult to know who is from the department and who is in the park to poach. The Central Government funds are not being used properly, and most of the money is siphoned off. The list of litanies continues with gypsum quarries in North Kashmir destroying markhor and musk deer habitat and huge encroachments in Hokarsar, Haigam, Mirgund and Shallabug wetlands.
Ironically, an enclosure has been built at Kanger on the outskirts of Dachigam on the Sonmarg side for hangul at a cost that was greater than the budget for the protection of all of Dachigam (one crore rupees!).
Effective protection and removal of the various factors described above can still save the hangul from extinction. It would be a shame to have saved a species only to push it to the brink again. Write to the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister, the MoEF and Sonia Gandhi highlighting the serious lapses in protecting Dachigam from encroachment and disturbance.
Make these points:
Dr. Manmohan Singh