In the shadow of seismic vulnerability, Jammu and Kashmir grapples with a growing environmental crisis. Rampant construction and disregard for natural resources amplify the region’s susceptibility to disasters.
Cease the wanton destruction of vital ecosystems, including water bodies, orchards, mountains, agricultural fields, and forests. Despite the perilous classification of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in seismic Zones IV and V, rendering the region highly susceptible to earthquakes, construction activities persist in delicate areas. The collective memory seems to have blurred the recollection of the powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook J&K on October 8, 2005, leaving widespread devastation in its wake.
Jammu and Kashmir’s distinctive topography makes it inherently prone to an array of natural disasters, from earthquakes and floods to landslides and the increasingly erratic climate patterns of recent times. Environmentalists argue that the majority of these calamities are direct consequences of reckless developmental pursuits and the unchecked vandalism of natural resources, including water bodies, orchards, agricultural fields, mountains, and forests. Furthermore, the intensification of human activities is accelerating the alarming rate of glacier melting in the region.
Despite witnessing the disruptive consequences of poorly executed developmental projects on fragile ecosystems, there appears to be a glaring lack of learning from past mistakes. Humanity seems indifferent to the toll on nature, which, in turn, responds with vengeance in the form of natural disasters.
A poignant example is the catastrophic flooding that engulfed J&K on September 7, 2014. Excessive rainfall in higher elevations led to the overflow of the Jhelum, Chenab, and Tawi basins, resulting in devastating floods. The floodwaters, estimated at about 120,000 cusecs, surpassed the carrying capacity of the Jhelum by five times during this calamitous event.
Environmentalists contend that human-induced factors, rather than purely natural ones, contribute significantly to such floods. Unregulated constructions in the floodplains of the Jhelum over several decades have compromised the wetlands’ ability to act as natural reservoirs, exacerbating the impact of flooding. Wetlands like Hokersar, Bemina, Narakara, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-arth, Anchar lake, and Gilsar have suffered degradation due to encroachment and rapid urbanization, affecting their capacity to absorb floodwaters.
Similarly, the unchecked encroachment on flood channels and wetlands, which could serve as crucial defenses against floods, further highlights the disregard for nature’s warning signs. The blame for floods, therefore, extends beyond nature to the passive complicity of human beings.
The vulnerability of J&K to natural disasters, especially earthquakes, is exemplified by the seismic Zones IV and V classification. Nevertheless, ongoing constructions in delicate areas persist, overshadowing the memory of the devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake of October 8, 2005. As a resident of Doda, I emphasize that this region, with its unique geoclimatic conditions, is particularly fragile, having experienced nine earthquakes within 60 hours in August of the previous year. The mountainous Doda district, housing massive dams like Dul Hasti and Baglihar, is inherently prone to natural disasters.
Amidst numerous hydropower projects in the Chenab region, it becomes imperative to establish and enforce stringent policy guidelines to mitigate damage to the fragile environment. Unscientific developmental activities, such as deforestation, improper road construction, terracing, and encroachment on steep hill slopes, have significantly heightened the risk of landslides in this geologically young and unstable region.
The ongoing four-lane Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri highway project exemplifies the short-sighted approach to development. Fruit-bearing trees and other vegetation are being indiscriminately felled, impacting the region’s biodiversity. The destruction of the famous tree-line along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway, once a major tourist attraction, underscores the need for more sustainable development practices.
The loss of trees is not only irreversible but also represents a substantial and irreparable damage to the environment. Despite the ongoing climate fluctuations in J&K, marked by heavy snowfall, unseasonal rain, and heatwaves, there is a palpable lack of foresight in development projects. The retreat of glaciers like Kolahai, Thajiwas, Hoksar, Nehnar, and Shishram is emblematic of the escalating impact of climate change on the region.
Doda, a hotspot for earthquakes, faces an uphill battle against unscientific development. From massive dams to hydropower projects, the region stands on the brink of environmental disaster, urging stringent policies and eco-friendly interventions.
While the Union Environment Ministry and the J&K government have taken steps, such as formulating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for disaster management plans and eco-fragility studies, the implementation remains selective. These SOPs should be universally applied throughout J&K to safeguard against further environmental degradation.
Recognizing the urgent need for reforestation, Union Home Minister Amit Shah rightly emphasized that environmental protection hinges on extensive tree planting. A tree planted today, he noted, would provide oxygen for future generations, countering the escalating threat of pollution and ozone layer depletion.
There is an immediate imperative for sustainable development practices. Conducting Environment Impact Assessments before embarking on projects could prevent further harm to the environment. The time to act is now, for the sake of the fragile ecosystems and the future generations that depend on them.