Eco-Activists Mobilizing Community to Fight Eco-Offensive in Kashmir

By Mohammad Tawheed for KNO

FROM reporting illegal riverbed-mining to launching water-cleanliness drives, the new-age Kashmiri eco-activists are spearheading a green change in the valley with the community mobilisation.

The initiative is already serving a wakeup call to the people refusing to ignore the alarming rates of environmental degradation in the Himalayan region.

As many are wilfully participating in the safeguard of their environment, the eco-activism is only gaining momentum in Kashmir.

“Environmental activism is bound to rise in Kashmir because of the worsening environmental situation, which no conscious citizen can disregard in any circumstances,” said Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an ace activist of Kashmir.

“Since no political or religious leader in Kashmir speaks about environmental issues, I felt a need to raise my voice against such issues and to become an environmental activist.”

Eco-activists are people who not only speak up against the degradation of environment but also take sustainable actions for the conservation, protection and restoration of environment. They lobby for judgements and laws protecting environment. They also raise awareness among common masses vis a vis eco-friendly and sustainable development.

“Environmental activism is an extremely important endeavour considering Jammu and Kashmir is an agrarian and tourism based economy depending heavily on its natural resources,” Dr. Bhat added.

The Jammu and Kashmir Draft Environmental Policy of 2018 mentions that the unsustainable use of natural resources for economic growth and development has led to the degradation of environment and ever-growing environmental issues in Jammu and Kashmir.

Loss and degradation of forests and biodiversity, loss of wetland ecosystems, increasing scarcity of water, menace of solid waste, and air, water and soil contamination are some of the challenges mentioned in the draft policy document.

“Our organization [Himalayan Welfare Organization] played a key role in the establishment of a solid waste management plant in Pahalgam,” said Mushtaq Pahalgami, a contractor turned environmental activist.

After realizing the importance of a healthy and sustainable environment for tourism sector in Kashmir, Mushtaq said, a large number of people turned to environmental activism instead of other forms of activism.

“Even local hikers,” he said, “have also shown an interest in environmental activism.”

Eco-Activists Mobilizing Community to Fight Eco-Offensive in Kashmir 2

Riverbed mining in Kashmir

Working to end deforestation and illegal timber smuggling from last five years, Mushtaq A. Lone from Budgam told Kashmir Observer that he began environmental activism during his hiking days.

“Whenever I hiked in the local forests, I always witnessed large scale deforestation in those forests,” he said. “And that is when I realized I need to do something about it. I involved locals in this endeavour as the environment concerns all of us.”

Much of this community mobilisation, said Aroosa Runga, a Srinagar-based environmental activist, is triggered by the poor-planning of government.

“Allowing concrete and haphazard construction especially in eco-fragile zones and green belts and permitting illegal mining in water streams etcetera inspires youth to save environment,” she said. “The eco-awareness is building and some of us are only curating the community response towards the elephant in the room.”

Environmental activists like Manzoor Wangoo inspire most of the eco-activists to work on environmental issues and involve communities, said Mudasir Yatoo from Chadoora, an environmental activist working for rural sanitation and preservation of Karewas.

Wangoo is a well-known businessman and environmental activist who led the movement for cleaning of Hokarsar and Khushal Sar Lakes in Srinagar.

“Peoples’ result-oriented interventions always play an encouraging role in the field of activism,” Mudasir said.

Besides the reasons mentioned, most of the activists are of the opinion that social media and the introduction of environmental science at school and college levels contributed to rise in environmental activism among youth.

Various initiatives of the government like organizing awareness camps in rural areas or taking strict action against those involved in the destruction of environment has been helpful as well.

The recent judgements issued by National Green Tribunal on illegal mining in Shali Ganga Nallah, Budgam also motivate activists to launch new movements regarding the unprecedented damages inflicted upon the environment, said Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat.

“Gathering reliable information through tools like RTI prior to activism is critical,” Dr. Bhat while referring to aspiring environmental activists said. “Information is your power, otherwise you won’t be effective in your activism.”

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