Troops decimate trout in south Kashmir
25 June 2006
Kokernag: Large-scale poaching by troops and the Central Reserve Police Force personnel posted on the upper reaches of the Pir Panjal Mountains holds out a significant threat to the Scottish trout — one of Jammu and Kashmir's most important tourism assets. Troops posted for counter-terrorism duties have been throwing grenades into the quiet pools in mountain streams where trout lurk — a method that promptly yields a large catch, but also destroys hundreds of hatchlings, thousands of eggs and entire breeding areas. Efforts to attract upmarket tourists back to once-flourishing angling resorts such as Kokernag are being undermined by this environmental vandalism. Residents of the village of Larnoo say troops of a picket maintained by the 36 Rashtriya Rifles at the mountain village of Larnoo were among the worst offenders. Grenades were set off by troops from the picket along the Lavar Nabook stream on June 12, 18 and 20. The CRPF personnel posted at Daksum, villagers said, also targeted trout using explosive devices and, on at least two occasions, bleaching powder. Trout, tourists and terrorists Imported into Jammu and Kashmir during the early 19th century, brown and rainbow trout succeeded in establishing themselves in the fierce mountain streams that run off the Pir Panjal mountains. For decades, anglers from across the world made their way to southern Kashmir to fish for trout amidst what is widely acknowledged to be one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. In 1989, though, terrorist violence destroyed the tourism industry — and almost succeeded in wiping out the trout as well. 'Once every [few] months,' recalls Mohammad Shaban Deka, who has guided anglers along the Bringhi river system for over five decades, 'construction workers would throw dynamite into the river to catch fish. Usually, they would be caught, so such incidents were rare. However, the jihadi groups had no fear of the law.' Rampant poaching with explosives hit the trout hard. Between 1989 and 2002, the year when levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir began to decline, trout stocks were decimated. 'I often used to catch two or three-kg fish,' says another expert angler, Bashir Ahmad Chowdhury, 'but I haven't seen one in years now. I'd say 80% of the trout in the Kokernag streams was wiped out by poaching over the last decade.' For the last two years, enthused by the flow of tourists into Jammu and Kashmir, the Fisheries Department has worked hard to draw anglers to Kokernag again. Anglers' rest houses at Ahlan, Daksum and Dandipora, which were burned down by terrorists, have been rebuilt. Fisheries Department staff at Kokernag, home to India's largest trout farm, have also stepped up their efforts to restock the river. However, continued poaching — now by men in uniform — has meant that these efforts have so far come to nothing. Afraid of provoking a confrontation, Fisheries Department guards have been hesitant about initiating prosecutions. Last year, a Border Security Force officer was charged with poaching on a stream near Larnoo, but the case was later dropped. No other criminal action for poaching has been initiated in over a decade. Asked for comment by The Hindu , a spokesperson for the Srinagar-based 15 Corps said the Army would investigate complaints about poaching by troops. 'If these reports are true,' the spokesperson said, 'those using grenades for poaching will be punished. The Army is deeply committed to the protection of the environment, and troops in the Kokernag area will be educated about their responsibilities.'