Development at what cost
Addressing developmental needs in Jammu and Kashmir should be a priority. This means that various new projects need to be undertaken so that the infrastructural gaps that have crept in can be filled in.
The region has been witnessing a developmental vacuum as is evident from the scenario that we are faced with. We have very little infrastructure that we can fall back on incase the need arises. Therefore, addressing the infrastructural needs has to be a top most priority.
But one thing needs to be kept in mind and that is ensuring development but not at the cost of resorting to devastation and plunder. If we fiddle with the ecology and try our bit to disturb it, we will perish. The threat that nature offers is quite brutal in nature as the September 2014 deluge proved.
While ensuring any expansion of the city limits or raising other infrastructure, the planners need to keep in mind the shrinking water bodies which have so far bore the brunt of expansions.
Water bodies in Kashmir are shrinking at an alarming pace. Reasons can be many but prominently unplanned urbanisation, siltation and lack of conservation measures by the authorities are turning these wetlands into marshy lands and later our greed turns them into commercial and residential zones.
Wetlands act as flood absorption basins by retaining excess waters and are also referred as the Earth’s kidneys for helping absorb wastes like nitrogen and phosphorous. In view of its flat topography, the Valley is highly vulnerable to flooding, but most wetlands, which acted as reservoirs of floodwaters, have lost their carrying capacity due to haphazard urbanisation and encroachments.
Ironically, most of these wetlands and water bodies which are connected to the Jhelum basin are gasping for breath due to both official and public apathy. The flood vulnerability of the Jhelum basin has been exacerbated during the last few decades as most of the wetlands in the river’s floodplains, which used to act as storage for the floodwaters, have been converted into agriculture land or built up areas.
The glaring examples are for all of us to see as several important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains like Hokarsar, Bemina, Narakara, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-Arth, Anchar Lake and Gilsar have vanished owing to rapid encroachment and urbanisation.
The total area of major wetlands in the Jhelum basin, with area greater than 25 hectare, has decreased from 288.96 sq-km in 1972 to 266.45 sq-km at present. Besides, the valley has lost 22 wetlands to urbanisation within and in the vicinity of Srinagar city alone, since 1970.
The impervious concretisation surfaces in the southern areas of the Srinagar city, due to urban sprawl, have increased from 34 percent in 1992 to more than 65 percent at present, severely affecting the hydrological processes in the Jhelum basin.
If the trend continues as is happening presently, the future of Srinagar city can be predicted with ease. The future it seems is bleak and the authorities need to take this as an alarm.