Five centuries back, famous spiritual saint and poet, Sheikh Noor-ud-din Rishi also known as Nund Rish or Sheikh-ul-alam said : An Poshi Teli Yeli Poshi Wan (food/sustenance suffices when only forests will suffice).
The visionary saint had realized importance of preserving environment for sustenance when Kashmir was full with lush green forests and clean water used to flow in abundance. And it lasted until last six decades when Valley used to be much greener and pristine waters flowed in streams, lakes and wetlands were lucid.
The forests of Kashmir were full with different wildlife species. Though literacy rate was not even half what it is today, however, our ancestors seemed more concerned about the environment, forests, wildlife and endowments in the form of water bodies. In every village or locality natural springs were preserved by the common people. Today, we are facing an environmental degradation at a large scale and all our environmental assets, be it forests, water resources, wildlife and lakes and wetlands are facing threat or are on the verge of extinction.
The lackadaisical attitude of the government shouldn’t be only blamed but the community should also be held collectively responsible for the depletion of natural resources at a fast rate. Despite the rate at which our natural resources are getting depleted, the degradation of environment has not been a big issue here. Already we have faced brunt of nature in the form of 2014 floods that submerged many parts of our valley.
Official estimates suggest that in the devastating floods 10,136,063 people were affected among that 8,186,273 were indirectly affected and 1,949,790 were directly.
Our rivers, lakes and wetlands have been encroached at a large scale and neither people not the government seems bothered about this environmental degradation. Experts say that 2014 like floods can’t be ruled out in the future as encroachment of the water bodies and deforestation is going at a rapid scale. The water bodies which would absorb the excessive waters during incessant rainfall have shrunk alarmingly.
The Asia’s second fresh water lake Wular and Dal has been reduced to a cesspool. Over the years Wular has shrunk drastically from 217.8 square kilometers in 1911 to a mere 50 square kilometers and there has been reduction in the lake area by 45 percent, mainly due to conversion of agriculture (28 percent) and plantation (17 percent).
Dal has become treasure trove for the corrupt officials who have looted state and centre government in the name of Dal restoration. The office bearers of different Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) – working in the name of Dal and other environmental issues have made fortunes for their families.
Saffron also known as Valley’s golden crop is facing reduction due to pollution emanating from the cement factories located in the nearby Khrew area and most of the cement factory owners don’t follow environment norms. This time also more than 240 hamlets dotting the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway cultivate saffron and is one of the rich sources of livelihood but from 5,707 hectares in 1997, the saffron fields shrunk to a worrying 3,010 hectares in 2006-2007.
Even today officials believe more area where saffron was grown has become victim of urbanization. Due to pollution the production of the labour-intensive crop consequently slumped — from 16 metric tonnes annually to 6.5 metric tonnes.
Even our paddy crop is at stake from 2002, around 1.70 lakh hectares were under the paddy cultivation and Valley has lost more than 2000 hectares of paddy land.
Due to human laxity we are witnessing more emissions in green house gases in the world, even the climate pattern has changed in our Valley in shape of late winters and rising temperatures during summer. Earlier, Kashmir used to have four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter, now due to climate change, the spring that used to bring hope has changed into despair.
It is estimated that 15 pc of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. A study has revealed that from 2000 to 2012, about 890,000 square miles of forests were cut down across the globe. Some experts say that we are losing 80,000 acres of tropical rainforests daily.
In Kashmir in 1880 we had 65 percent covered under virgin forests that were reduced to 37 percent in last century. We have lost more forest cover than in hundreds of years of human presence. As per the official estimates, the recorded forest area of the State is 20,230 kilometers.
Due to rise in the temperature our glaciers are shrinking that will play havoc with our water sources and within next few decades if steps are not taken we may have to struggle even for potable water the basic requirement for survival. Though time is moving fast not only the government but responsibility also lies on the masses, otherwise future generation will curse us.
While we must be thankful to our ancestors for safeguarding, preserving natural heritage at the same time we must ponder whether we are able to safeguard our environment and natural resources for future generations the way our ancestors did for us.