Haphazard constructions take sheen off Sonamarg
Concrete structures come up in eco-fragile, avalanche-prone areas
In blatant violation of norms, constructions are going on unabated in the eco-fragile and avalanche-prone areas of this famous ski-resort. Experts warn that these constructions can be catastrophic in case of natural disasters.
A spot visit reveals that big concrete structures are coming up on mountains slopes and forest areas on the right side after entering Sonamarg. In absence of any regulation by the authorities, some people are having a field day to vandalize the fragile environs.
“To pave way for constructions, these unscrupulous persons in league with authorities felled dozens of trees and leveled slopes in fragile areas. Sonamarg has been vandalized and ironically government is acting as a mute spectator,” locals said.
Dozens of trucks carrying construction material for upcoming hotels in fragile areas move around without any hassles, Sonamarg Development Authority (SDA) looking the other way to this vandalization.
In violation of environmental laws, sources said, permission has been given for construction of hotels in avalanche-prone areas here. “In 2012, an Army camp situated on foothills of a mountain here was completely destroyed after it was hit by an avalanche. Ironically, hotels there are still being constructed,” locals said.
“Constructions in eco-fragile and avalanche-prone areas in Sonamarg or any other place can be catastrophic in case of any eventuality. These concrete constructions can also affect the eco-system of these eco-sensitive areas by hampering flow of small water channels. Authorities must take the matter seriously and ban constructions there,” said Prof Shakeel A Romshoo, Head of Earth Sciences department at Kashmir University.
Sources said before formulation of the exiting Master Plan (2005-2025) for Sonamarg, a group of persons in league with concerned authorities allegedly purchased hundreds of kanals of land in avalanche-prone areas from locals for peanuts, saying it falls in no construction zone.
“Then in lieu of hefty monetary considerations, they managed to change the land use of these areas in the Master Plan, thus paving the way for constructions in fragile zones,” they said.
The entire Sonamarg bowl spanning nearly five sq.kms excluding the proposed Golf Course have been made permissible for development, leaving very little space for recreation.
“The officials behind preparation of the Master Plan did not consider the sensitivity analysis including the slope analysis in the allocation of land for different uses. There are major discrepancies between actual site conditions and Master Plan land use in Sonamarg,” sources said.
They said the Master Plan has completely ignored the natural water courses and drainage in the land use plan. “Even carrying capacity of the destination was not considered in the Master Plan and the proposed bed capacity of 12500 is far beyond the sustainable levels of the eco-fragile destination. Areas vulnerable to natural disasters have been proposed for development which can trigger disasters in the area,” they said.
The Master Plan has also ignored the use of local materials, vernacular architecture and façade. “Master Plan for Sonamarg has ignored the planning principles. Ironically, there are two building lines for two sides of the same road which is bizarre,” they added.
Before constitution of the SDA in 2007, there were only few hotels and restaurants in Sonamarg. During last few years, a large number of structures, mostly hotels, have come up across the resort.
Officials said the then Union Tourism Secretary, RH Khawaja during his visit to Sonamarg in 2011 had expressed concern over haphazard constructions there and had called for sustainable development and regulated tourism to the resort.
Minister of Tourism, GA Mir, chairing Building Operation and Controlling Act (BOCA) meeting of Sonamarg Development Authority on September 23 last year had also directed not to allow constructions in Sonamarg in a haphazard manner, saying it affects the environment. However, on ground, all rules and regulation are missing.
Chief Executive Officer SDA, Farooq Ahmad, claimed that the permissions for constructions have been issued by the BOCA according to parameters of the Master Plan.
“The BOCA has members from various departments and after their approval permissions are given. Most of the structures here have permissions, however, we have been taking action against the offenders,” the CEO said.
A senior officer of the SDA acknowledged that constructions coming up in eco-fragile areas are taking toll on environment. “However, it is the fault of those who prepared the Master Plan as it enables constructions in fragile zones,” he added.