Kashmir a less happy valley?

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

I wrote the text reproduced below on the Dal Lake and Dachigam to the Prime Minister of India and the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1997.

Since then the situation for the wildlife of J&K has worsened. Militancy has hardly helped, but even without this social trauma, the truth is that the love, respect and understanding of nature that was once a part and parcel of the psyche of those who were lucky enough to be born in Kashmir seems conspicuous by its absence insofar as the protection of wildlife is concerned today. The Hangul deer, or Kashmir Stag, once the pride of people of the state are in a desperate state, with some reports placing the numbers at less than 200 (down from a high of 700). The Dal Lake itself is becoming more polluted by the day and deforestation in the hills is causing this "lifeline of Kashmir" to become silted and choked.

What will history write about those on whose hands the future of Kashmir now lies? Yes, the violence of man against man will be a part of the history. But the true magnitude of the tragedy, as recorded 100 years from today, is certain to be the impact that the violence of man against nature has had on the one Happy Valley.

 Dal Lake: Home to several migratory species of waterfowl, the Dal Lake is dying. Deforestation in the catchment area has led to siltation of such magnitude that the lake size has been reduced by over one third in the past decade. This include the cutting down of over 4,000 trees inside the Salim Ali National Park to make way for a golf course. The sewage from the city of Srinagar and from house boats also pollutes the lake and people and official government agencies have reclaimed and encroached on the lake area. Red bloom, Eulena rubra, covers a vast portion of the lake, choking it and altering its ecology. The Nagin lake too is becoming degraded with duckweed taking over its surface during the spring months. The Dal Development Project's de-weeding operations are more decorative than effective. Nothing less than social reform, coupled with solid scientific advice will allow the lake to be restored. 

The Dachigam National Park: This exquisite Himalayan haven is being ruined by a combination of factors, some which had been identified over a decade ago. To begin with, in the confusion of social unrest, virtually no protection exists in the upper meadows which are crucial to the survival of the Hangul deer. Last year over 10,000 livestock were grazed in Sangargulu, thus depriving the Hangul deer of much needed nourishment required for them to survive the long winter. The government sheep farm and trout hatchery which should have been moved out a long time ago, still operate, though they both suffer financial loss and cannot justify their existence. It has been reported that security forces regularly hunted wild animals including hangul deer till very recently. Armed insurgents also had a free run of the Park around three or four years ago. All this has resulted in a drastic fall in the Hagul population. The status of bears and leopards is not known, but we must presume they are no better off.