Kashmir on the brink of an eco-disaster
28 March 2001
The Hindustan Times
Banihal: It is to be River Jhelum. But now, it's a huge dry, bed where children play cricket, says Khalid Bashir in his book on the river. Drought is threatening to affect both the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region. The Himalayas" indestructible snows are 'shrinking", the forests are withering and the rivers are drying up - tell-tale signs of man-made eco-disaster. The gently sloping hills and lush terraced valleys overlooked by snow capped peaks of the Himalayas could soon be a thing of the past. Forests were the first victims. Militancy spurred building constructions all across the Valley. People believed that whatever Kashmir's status, the property would remain an asset. Trees were ruthlessly cut and militants smuggled timber at a time when the vigilance system in forests had collapsed. Trees were felled and sold at dirt-cheap rates. The security forces were no less guilty. Trucks of precious wood were smuggled out of the Valley. Walnut furniture and timber were the special attraction. This loot and the failure to preserve forests resulted in a denudation of forests. A rough estimate is that over 100 km of forest cover was lost in the initial years of militancy. Development works were stopped during the militancy, catchment areas were not preserved and irrigation canals or nullahs were not desilted. The rising mountains of silt soon stopped the flow of water. The silt soaked the water that used to flow in these nullahs and the farms got parched.