ARIF SHAFI WANI
With alarm bells ringing over rapid melting of one of the largest glaciers of Kashmir Himalayas Kolhai—the main source of water for the Valley, the Civil Society here on Thursday demanded regulation of Amarnath yatra pilgrimage on the pattern of Gangotri pilgrimage in Uttarakhand,
In view of environmental concerns, the government has restricted the number of tourists visiting Gomukh and other Gangotri glaciers, the origin of the holy river Ganga, to only 150 per day.
Kolhai glacier has shrunk 18 percent during past three decades mainly due to deforestation, increased human activity near the glacier and high levels of pollution caused by the emission of greenhouse gases by vehicles in Pahalgam and Sonamarg, experts said.
Rapid melting of Kolhai has evoked concern among the environmentalists who stress for immediate measures to at least minimize its melting rate.
Kashmir’s civil society under the banner of Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS) also demanded Gangotri pattern pilgrimage to protect natural assets in Sonamarg and Pahalgam.
KCSDS quoting Hindu scholar Swami Agnivesh as saying that preparations have been finalized to sent five million pilgrims from various states to Amarnath this year.
“Pumping of such a large number of pilgrims to Amarnath will vandalise its fragile environment,” said Dr Hameeda Nayeem chairperson of KCSDS in a round-table conference here to mark the International Day of Forests.
“We want to maintain that we are not against the Amarnath Yatra but we are concerned over such a large number of pilgrims far more that carrying capacity of the fragile area,” she said. “It is our responsibility to protect Kashmir’s fragile environment for posterity,” she added.
Dr Hameeda accused the SASB acting like a state within state. “SASB is acting like an extra-constitutional authority and is leaving no stone unturned to vandalize the sensitive area. The Board spread blatant lies about the cause of deaths of the pilgrims last year. We are certain that not a single pilgrim died due to bad roads on the route but purely health reasons and non-acclimatization to the high altitude of the Amarnath,” she said.
She accused the Govt of observing in breach the recommendations of Nitesh Sen Gupta committee to regulate number of pilgrims.
She said the principles of conservation for environment and administrative facilitation to the pilgrimage to Holy Gangotri should be applied to the Amarnath Yatra.
On the occasion member of KCSDS Shakeel Qalandar accused the SASB of undertaking the yatra in a haphazard manner.
“GoI and SASB have turned the Yatra into a political than religious affair. We have been hosting the pilgrims from centuries but it is a dangerous trend the yatra has been managed particularly since 2008,” Qalandar said.
Qalandar said the government should come clean on memorandum it has signed after the 2008 Amarnath land row. “What is the harm in regulating the pilgrims or preserving fragile environs in Amarnath?” he asked.
Noted columnist Dr Javaid Iqbal said: “We need to rope in environmental groups around the globe to save fragile environment in Amarnath from destruction,” Dr Iqbal said.
Former president of Tourism Alliance and Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation (KHAROF) GM Dug stressed for formulation of a Tourism Policy to save eco-fragile places like Pahalgam and Sonamarg.
“We must understand that it is necessary to save these tourist places and Amaranth for our future generations. For this we need support of all the stakeholders. Ironically, the haphazard constructions and wrong polices have taken a heavy toll our tourist places including Amarnath,” Dug said.
Noted columnist Z G Muhammad suggested holding a Youth conference to mobilize their opinion in the matter.
“We need to prioritize issues confronting us including threat to environment in Amarnath and build public opinion on it,” he added.
President of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association Showkat Chaudhary said termed the Amarnath as a sensitive issue. “We need to deal with it carefully and try to discuss our concerns with the Government and seek an amicable solution,” Chaudhary said.
Among others who spoke on the occasion included Anwar Ashai, Qurat-ul-Ain, Noor-ul-Hassan, Irfan Lone and Nadeem Qadri.