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Kashmir civil society express concern over Amarnath construction plans

August 19, 2012

The press release below has been jointly issued by a number of eminent citizens and civil society members in Kashmir. Full list of signatories at the end.

Srinagar, 18 August 2012: Civil society groups of Kashmir express their serious concern over the recent Supreme Court directions to the J&K government for undertaking civil engineering works leading to construction of roads and other infrastructure in the environmentally fragile Himalayan habitat around the Amarnath cave shrine in the valley of Kashmir. This move comes even as the committee formed by the Hon’ble court for recommending ways and means to promote safe journey of pilgrims to the cave shrine is yet to submit its report.

At a joint meeting of various civil society groups held on 16 August at Srinagar, the following resolution was adopted:

i) While we fully share governmental concern to ensure good health and well-being of the intending pilgrims, we believe that the yatra must be conducted in accordance with the National Environment Policy, the State Forest Policy and also the Nitish Sengupta Committee recommendations.

ii) Given the fact that a vast population of the Kashmir valley depend on the drinking water that originates from the glaciers around the Amarnath site, we believe any increased human activity through large scale construction works will greatly enhance pollution, pose serious challenges to public health and result in irreversible damage to the flora and fauna of the area, critical to tourism and agriculture of the region. It must be noted that the area through which the current tracks lead to the Amarnath cave in the Sonamarg area fall under the Thajiwas Wildlife Sanctuary, and as such any construction activity will be in contravention of the established laws. Conserving the pristine waters of the Lidder, the Sindh, the Jhelum rivers and their tributaries must be a common goal, irrespective of religious beliefs, political affiliation or any worldview one might subscribe to.

iii) We strongly believe that the principles of conservation for environment and administrative facilitation as applied to the pilgrimage to Holy Gangotri and the larger conservation plans for the Holy Ganga river be applied to the pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine as was the established practice in the past. Any politicisation of the pilgrimage could be fraught with serious consequences.

iv) We note with deep appreciation the government of India’s in-principle nod for declaring the 135-km stretch of the Ganga between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone in November, 2010, seeking specific measures to protect the rich biodiversity of the region. We also view with satisfaction that the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) has approved discontinuation of 3 hydro-electric power projects-Bhaironghati, Pala Maneri and NTPC’s Loharinag Pala proposed on the river to improve the overall water quality in it. We demand that the same principles be applied for the conservation of the area surrounding the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir and no human activity be undertaken there in a manner that will irreversibly damage the fragile ecology of the area. Application of uniform principles of conservation and protection are not only necessitated by the imperatives of the National Environment Policy and the National Forest Policy but also emphasized by the uniform standards of judicial principles.

v) We call upon the Central Empowered Committee on Forests and Environment and the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Environment to initiate steps that the national environment and forest policies be implemented in letter and spirit and the plans of large scale construction around the Amarnath cave shrine be subjected to legal scrutiny in the light of the established laws and policies.

vi) While we support administrative measures to ensure good health and well-being of the pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine, we believe construction of roads and cable cars will not help in preventing deaths because of the inherent health risks in high altitude travel. It is a medically established fact that gradual acclimatization is needed for ascent from 5000 feet to 14,000 feet for any human being, including pilgrims. Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema( HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) can happen in otherwise healthy people as well if the basic principles of acclimatization are not adhered to. These clinical conditions contribute substantially to high mortality encountered during the yatra. The health hazards are compounded in the elderly, persons with high blood pressure, heart disease, pulmonary insufficiency and diabetes. Pilgrims are especially susceptible to hypothermia and hypoglycemia which amplify morbidity and mortality. An equally important aspect of unregulated number of the yatris and extended duration of the yatra results in outbreak of water-borne diseases namely – gastroenteritis, hepatitis, typhoid etc causing immense morbidity among people using the polluted water.

vii) We strongly recommend authentic medical clearance for the intending pilgrims on the pattern of the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra where pilgrims above 70 years are not allowed to undertake the yatra and pilgrims are to produce genuine medical certificates certifying their health status.. We believe these very basic measures will greatly help in preventing pilgrim deaths in the high altitude area and at the same time ensure conservation of highly fragile and precious eco-diversity of the area.

Signed by:

Abdul Majeed Zargar (Chartered Accountant), Akhtar Rashid (Former chief engineer & social activist), Dr Altaf Hussain (Pediatrician), Anuradhu Bhasin Jamwal (Journalist), Anwar Ashai, Arjimand Hussain Talib (Development consultant/columnist), Dr. Ashraf Beg (Writer/columnist), Bilal Ahmed Dar (Academician), Faiza Qadri (Electronics engineer), Dr Hameeda Nayeem (Academician/chairperson-KCSDS), Dr Hina Altaf (Dermatologist), Dr. Javed Iqbal (Columnist/writer), Kaiser G (Director, Punjab Technical University, Srinagar), Khurram Parvez (Human rights activist), Khursheed Ahmed (Academician), M. Saleem Beg (Head INTACH-J&K chapter), Dr Maroof Shah (Veterinarian), Muhammad Shafi Khan (Social activist), Dr. Mubeen Shah (President, J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry), Nadeem Qadri (Environmental lawyer/activist), Dr Omar Kirmani (Radiologist), Peerzada Ashiq (Journalist), Parvaiz Bukhari (Journalist), Qurrat-ul-Ain (Academician), Raja Muneeb (Social activist), Riyaz Ahmed Lone (Pahalgam Peoples’ Welfare Organisation), Shakeel Qalander (Ex-President FCIK, Kashmir), Shujaat Bukhari (Senior Journalist), Shuja ul Haque (Journalist), Sulaiman Hussaini (Medical device professional), Umar Shafi Trumboo (Businessman), Zahir-ud-din (Lawyer/columnist/human rights activist), Zareef Ahmed Zareef (Poet/activist), Z G Muhammad (Writer/columnist), Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat (RTI Activist)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2012 8:37 PM

    The construction mafia poses danger to environment as well as the spiritual experience that such journeys to the wild are supposed to be. I hope it does not turn out to be another devastation like Vaishno Devi. If the mafia has its way, it would pave all our nature reserves with concrete.

    The sacred (if any) is in the aliveness of that place and not in its death…in its posing a risk/challenge to life while at the same time being an encounter with stark wilderness.

  2. August 19, 2012 9:31 PM

    The concerns raised are genuine but I believe that remedial measures must be insisted upon for the likely pollution rather than on stopping or restricting the Yatra. Any human activity interferes with nature these days and causes pollution. We have to think ahead and take remedial measures.

  3. Scbakshi permalink
    August 20, 2012 7:17 AM

    I fully endorse the concerns raised, I am sure Lord Shiva will not like to dwell in a place unless the natural habitat is preserved, Urgent measures are needed to maintain the balance .

  4. passerby permalink
    August 20, 2012 11:59 AM

    The yatra takes place during a specific period every year and is not an throughout the year affair. Tourism in Kashmir has resulted in increase of construction activity including building roads and thanks to that economic gains accrue to locals. Similarly the suggested measures will benefit the people. If tourism can be allowed and encouraged in the valley why not these measures too.

  5. JGN permalink
    August 20, 2012 1:12 PM

    No plans to construct road to Amarnath shrine: J&K Govt.

    Mr. Rather said that some leaders and civil society groups had started issuing statements about the matter, leading to an impression that the Government was going to construct a road in the area. “I want to assure the people that there are no such plans. They should not pay heed to rumours. We have witnessed two peaceful years and people are reaping its dividends in terms of tourism and development,” he said.

  6. Narayan permalink
    August 21, 2012 1:23 AM

    The petitioners claim that “any politicisation of the pilgrimage could be fraught with serious consequences” but that is precisely what they are trying to do: politicise the issue. They seem to be shedding crocodile tears for the well-being of the environment and the tourists while all they want is a ban on the creation of facilities which will go a long way in making the pilgrimage to Amarnath less arduous than it is at present. In Switzerland, one finds highways and cable cars and hordes of tourists. I have not heard of any travel restriction on the basis of health or age. Nor is there any report of severe environmental degradation.

    Over half a million pilgrims visit the Amarnath shrine each year and this figure is unlikely to increase just because of the proposed road; all that the proposed road will do is to make the pilgrimage less physically taxing for the devotees and easier for the authorities to ensure their safety.

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