[Reader-list] What Mughal Road didn’t that shrine land-transfer plans did - Kavita Suri

Aditya Raj Kaul kauladityaraj at gmail.com
Mon Jun 30 13:21:44 IST 2008

The Truth Behind

*What Mughal Road didn't that shrine land-transfer plans did*

Kavita Suri
JAMMU, June 29: Three years ago, when the then chief minister of Jammu and
Kashmir Mufti Mohammed Sayeed decided to revive the centuries-old Mughal
Road in the region, no one in Kashmir even uttered a single word on the
massive destruction of environment in Pir Panjal mountain ranges of the

The revival of the old Mughal Road which was once used by the great Mughals
to travel to Kashmir from Lahore and its subsequent reconstruction ordered
by Mufti Sayeed not only witnessed destruction of over 10,000 trees and 26
wild life sanctuaries but also fragmented the habitat of the
highly-endangered wild Markhor goat. India is estimated to have a total
population of only 300-200 of this species, which is found in southwest
Kashmir's Hirpora, Lachipora and Limber wildlife sanctuaries falling on
Mughal Road.

Surprisingly, all the political parties remained silent over the issue of
degradation of environment and destruction of the wild life sanctuaries due
to the work on the Mughal Road.

But when the Jammu and Kashmir government recently decided to transfer 40
hectares of forest land at Baltal and Domail for the proposed camping sites
located on the right side of the Sindh River for the purpose of constructing
temporary shelters for the Amarnath pilgrims, the political parties in
Kashmir have opposed it tooth and nail on the pretext of environment

The issue had deeply polarised the entire state. Politicians and other
organisations in Jammu see it as a deliberate move to suppress Hindu
identity and communalisation in the region. "When 10,000 trees were cut and
the habitat of the wild Markhor destroyed for the reconstruction of the
Mughal Road, no one said anything but when SASB wanted to set up temporary
shelters for two months only, there was an uproar," Dr Nirmal Singh, member,
national executive & former state president of the BJP said.

The PDP, National Conference and other parties were playing with fire by
communalising the whole issue of the Amarnath Yatra and opposing the
decision to transfer 800 kanals of land to SASB for creating facilities for
pilgrims, he added. To prevent environmental destruction due to the work on
the Mughal Road, a Kashmir-based NGO, Bio-diversity Conservation Trust had
gone to Supreme Court arguing that construction work would affect the
region's biodiversity and the movement of wild animals, especially the
Markhor goat.

The Wild Markhor is on IUCN's Red List of highly endangered wild animals and
is also named in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the
Jammu Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 (amended in 2002).

But in the case of SASB, the transfer of 800 kanals (40 hectares) of forest
land was no issue at all. The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board had assured the
government that it would take all possible environmental safeguards in
consultation with the State Pollution Control Board to ensure that no damage
is caused to the ecology of the area. "The SASB camping sites did not
involve any area of Thajwas Wild Life Sanctuary, which is located on the
left side of River Sindh. The Shrine Board had to use prefabricated
structures for the camping purpose of the pilgrims and would not have gone
for construction of permanent structures," the Jammu and Kashmir chief
minister Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad had pointed out.

Raising a few pertinent questions, Dr Singh asked as to why no hue and cry
was raised when the Mufti government transferred over 5,000 kanals of forest
land to Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University at Rajouri which also affected
the environment badly. No one uttered a single word then.

"Besides, Sharda Peeth university project was scuttled whereas government
gave free land to Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University project and also free
land was transferred to Islamic University at Awantipora in South Kashmir,"
adds Dr Agnishekhar, president, Panun Kashmir. People in Jammu believe that
all this points to the complete cleansing of the last vestiges of Hindu
presence in the valley.

"The protagonists of this vicious tirade dub the holy Amarnath Yatra as a
cultural invasion of Kashmir affecting its ecology, cultural identity and
demography. Whatever ecological damage Kashmir has suffered is as a result
of illegal felling of trees by land mafia in connivance with corrupt
administration over the years," said Dr Agnishekher adding the systematic
reclamation of water bodies and continuous flow of waste materials into
lakes like the famous Dal lake and uncontrolled construction activity has
resulted in much more ecological damage than the Amarnath pilgrimage.

"An environmental impact assessment report to the Jammu and Kashmir
Pollution Control Board regarding the Mughal Road clearly said that it would
cut through 67 hectares of the Hirpora sanctuary disturbing the habitat of
the Markhor. The cutting of many trees would have a cascading effect on the
associated biota. Besides, traffic on the road may cause death of many
animals that utilise verge habitats or try to cross the road. The presence
of motor vehicles may introduce the potential for contamination of soil, air
and water adjacent to the road and in the case of surface water, well beyond
the immediate surroundings. Chronic contamination may become a problem for
animal species, especially those at the top of the food chain.why there was
no public outcry then," asks Dr Agnishekher.

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