All about ecology Let’s protect our ecologically fragile area

The rightwing Hindu parties are politicizing Amarnath Yatra again as was done during the Amarnath land row of 2008. According to a recent news report Hindu bodies interpret Kashmir’s opposition to the construction of road to Amarnath as opposition to giving facilities to the Yatris, or interference in Hindu religion. This sort of allegation against Kashmir is no doubt fallacious. Kashmir opposed and will oppose the construction of Amaranth road, but it is based on the ground of protection of ecologically fragile area and safeguarding the main water source of the valley of Kashmir.

Madhu Purnima Kishwar, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi and Founder of Manushi (an organization committed to protect democratic rights in India), is also a member of Kashmir Committee. A couple of weeks ago Geelani Sahib voiced concern for the environmental damage being caused to the eco-sensitive zone due to the massive increase in the number of yatris that have been visiting the Amarnath Shrine. In an open letter to Geelani Sahib (in Tehelka magazine) , she had admitted: “I have personally seen how much garbage and filth, the Yatra generates, and how the extension of the Yatra to two months has caused further damage to the delicate ecology of the area.”

In her open letter, she said, “On behalf of Kashmir Committee, I fully endorse your demand that just as 153 km area from Gomukh to Devprayag has been notified as an eco-sensitive zone by the Government of India, so also the area around the Amarnath shrine needs to be declared as an eco-sensitive zone. All those who value the Amarnath Shrine as a sacred site, should join hands with their Kashmiri brothers in preserving the pristine purity of the area.” She also admitted, “You are also right in alleging that the creation of the Shrine Board, (with limitless power) by Farooq Abdullah government was an ill conceived political move. However, the Board stayed within its limits till General Sinha as the Governor of J&K did all he could to communalize the Yatra as well as its management.

” She agreed that “your demand that the management of the Yatra be handed over to the Kashmiri Pandits of the Valley and that they along with their Muslim brothers take care of the needs of the yatris is a welcome suggestion, especially considering that Kashmiri Muslims have played a stellar role in ensuring that the yatris feel welcome and safe no matter how disturbed the conditions in the Valley.” This well-meaning Indian lady, with a positive and constructive approach, has not hesitated to confess that “there is no denying that certain vested interests are using the Yatra as “a show of Hindu strength”.

“The calculated use of violence or the threat of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; which is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear is terrorism. It is what Kashmir faced and continues to face perhaps till Kashmir will turn into a desert as predicted by environmentalists” – these are the words of great geologist Prof. Husnain. If the glaciers meltdown completely, he said, Kashmir will become a desert.

Basic fault lies with state governments in Kashmir that have been in power since 1996. It was the recommendations of Natish Sengupta and Mukhar Ji Committee that suggested limiting the number of Yatries , as was done in case of Gangotri in Uttarakhand and fixing quota of yatrtis to the States. The fact that these recommendations were not implemented can be attributed to the carelessness of governments or appeasement policy of State Governments towards New Delhi. With the formation of the Shrine Board armed with unbridled powers, it became dictating terms to the state government. The fact is that all the State governments from 1996 are criminally silent on this issue, with an exception of a feeble assertion by the ex-Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in 2003. But he too had to bow before the centre. And now Kashmir continues to face this ecological terrorism.

All said, Kashmiris have never been against any religious event or congregation. There is no need to communalize the issue. That will do more harm than good.