Why not, provded we have a will to do so!
Hundreds of thousands of tourists come to Kashmir every year. We have a Tourism Department with budgetary allocations to maintain the standard of tourism in Kashmir. But all is not rosy about Kashmir tourism. The ground situation of tourist spots and tourist culture as a whole in the State is depressing. Human contribution to the grand natural beauty of Kashmir is almost zero.
Swami Amarnath yatra
The number of pilgrims to Amarnath Cave this year has been about 4 lac. The Yatra began on 25 June and will terminate on 2 August (incidentally today). Out of four lac yatris, 99 per cent come by road, some in their own vehicles and others hire local transport. The journey from Lakhanpur to Baltal--the beginning and the end points-- takes at least two days. Imagine the quantum of litter, refuse and garbage left behind by a crowd of 5 laky souls while moving on the wheels. The entire path of nearly 400 kilometers presents a look of desolation with refuse littered on both sides of the road.There are no urinals, toilets and bathrooms along this 400 kilometer length not even for women. Males and boys urinate or defecate wherever they like to and women go behind the dense bushes or trees to ease themselves. Imagine the pollution and dirt it causes. Is this tourism? Is this Yatra? Whole River Sindh is polluted from Baltal.Tourists who travel by their private vehicles would like to pass the night inside their vehicles in case accommodation is not available in hotels. But they need toilets, and in absence of these, they defecate or urinate in open. It is such an ugly and shameful scene.
The influx of Yatris to Mata Vaishnov Devi shrine has crossed 1.1 crore annually. But because there are not adequate arrangements of accommodation, toilets and bathrooms for them, they respond to the call of nature on the roadside, in open space available, in parks and by the water bodies and forests. Thus from Lakhanpur up to the Vaishnov Devi shrine, the road on both sides is littered with garbage. There is no dustbin to deposit the used stuff in it. When visitors are in such a large number one can imagine how much pressure does it means on the environment and services. Most of the human refuse goes into water bodies and pollutes it.In absence of private or government accommodation for the pilgrims hundreds of thousands of yatris are forced to spend a night or two on verandas, in the forests or roadside. They are forced by non availability of adequate arrangement to spend the nights in open. There are no sarais or dormitories in which the yatris would spend the night. Common sense says that only such number of yatris should be allowed to enter as can be accommodated by this existing accommodation. Alternatively, for all incoming pilgrims-tourists adequate arrangements in essential services should be provided.
House Boats are stationed on the Dal Lake shabbily. Alongside the House Boats some owners have built their residential houses also and all the garbage from both places is dumped into the water of the Dal. It is impossible to sit in a small boat “shikara” and move around because it is stinking foul. Emptied plastic bottles, broken glasses, disposable items, rags etc. everything is dumped in the lake and thus its pollution is carried to the extreme. The irony is that the Central Government has released crores rupees for reclamation of this once famous lake but most of the money has gone into the pockets of rulers and bureaucrats of this State. LAWDA has become a source of minting money for its functionaries and those who are at the helm of affairs. Not only those who earn a living because of Dal but also those who are rolling in millions also have no qualms of conscience in turning it into a heap of garbage. One feels that Dal Lake is now on the verge of breathing its last.
I am surprised why the Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues are not opening their eyes to what atrocities are perpetrated to help quick extinction of this once beautiful lake. It needs to be said that the Cabinet allotted the reclamation of Dal project to the Deputy Chief Minister in the hope that by concentrating its administration in one hand, things would improve. But the stories of corruption and inefficiency rampant under this arrangement put one’s head to shame. The grapevine has it that the Deputy Chief Minister openly demand 5/10 or 15 per cent commission for any work allotted to a contractor in connection with the reclamation of the lake.
Cheshma Shahi, Nishat, Shalimar and Harvan
These world famous tourist and picnic spots are like the beads of necklace around the Dal Lake. Nothing was comparable to them in their setting, beauty and scenic elegance. These gardens were laid by the Mughal rulers and for long time they remained the choice destination of foreign visitors owing to excellent management and maintenance. But now the condition is the reverse of what we know. Administration of these gardens is unable to cope with the crowds of people visit it daily. Absence of toilets, freedom of spreading litter around the parks, trampling of flower beds and lack of cleanliness are to be found everywhere. Since people visit these places in large numbers, there is crowded traffic with no traffic control to mange parking of the vehicles in an orderly manner. Just at the entry to these gardens one finds heaps of garbage and the environment is nauseating. Inside or outside the gardens, no dust bins are available and if there is one it is seldom used. People don’t develop the culture of keeping environs cleans. Outside the walls of the gardens vendors sell eatable but there is hardly any check by the food inspecting department whether the eatables are worth eating.One often sees people washing their cars by the bank of the Dal. This is prohibited under law. But car owners throw the law to the winds. Not to speak of ordinary citizens even the cars of bureaucrats are washed on the bank of the Dal and all the dirt and dust of the car is deposited in the lake. Nobody checks this blatant violation of the rule. I have myself stopped while finding cars being washed and protested against it. There should be elegant wayside eateries neat and clean and hygienic in the vicinity of these gardens. Those running them should be highly trained with snow white uniform and eatables stuffed in plastic boxes and not exposed to flies and dust. There is not a single teashop of coffee shop; worth the name outside these gardens. And still we boast we have world class tourist spots.
Recently I had an opportunity of visiting Kokarnag in Anantnag district, the famous place where five springs to which water gushes from the mountain behind exist This unique scenario had made the famous Kashmiri poet Brij Narayan Chakbast say:
“Zarrah zarrah hai mere Kashmir ka mehman nawaz
Rah main pathar ke tukdon ne diya pani mujhe”
This could have been one of the most attractive places for the tourists to visit. But alas no imagination has been applied to it by any officer or functionary of the floriculture or tourist department of how it could be made most attractive. Big, shabby and rusted pipes are just fixed to the mouth of the spring wherefrom water flows and the fresh water is carried to private houses or building in the area. Even some big pipes are fixed which are reported to be carrying water to Anantnag town. And there is not one but at least half a dozen of these open pipes making the entire scene utterly ugly and offensive. One wonders what the Kokarnag Development Authority is doing. What beauty is there that would be a source of attraction for the tourists? The bus stand so close to the spot spoils the entire show. Dust and polluted air make it an obnoxious place. There is absolutely no planning and no management. It is a huge area which could have been turned into a magnificent park with terraces and water streams running in between with flower beds on both sides and plantation attractively laid out. The bus stand should be removed far away from the spot and artistically decorated kiosks to serve as eateries should be developed in the evacuated area. It is reported that 27 lak rupees have been spent by the government for the construction of the stone gate. What purpose does this gate serve? It is sheer waste of money because it is totally unplanned. Already some stones on the inner front piece are displaced and can be cause of a tragic accident of falling wall. The water of all the springs flows down in one stream but there is no check on keeping it clean and unpolluted. All waste is thrown in the otherwise clean and transparent water. In this entire complex where people come in thousands just two toilets are available and these too are filthy and stinking unworthy of being used.
Condition of Wullar Lake
Asia’s biggest clean water lake--, Gulmarg, Yusmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and numerous other famous tourist spots of Kashmir is no better. Their environs have become dumping ground for dirt, filth and garbage all stinking and repulsive. I would like to ask the authorities whether they have any qualms of conscience or not in letting this happen to these beautiful places. Don’t they see in what desolate conditions our tourist spots are and don’t they feel they have any responsibility of preserving their pristine beauty for the present and future generations of the people of Kashmir and the world?
Water is a rich boon from nature. It is a sin to pollute it. I wonder whether God will be happy to send us to heaven in view of how we have destroyed the heaven He created for us on the earth. Are we worth going to the Paradise after death if our handling of this earthly paradise is what it is?
If this sad and disappointing condition of our tourist spots is not reversed the big question hanging on our mind is whether these spots will survive any more as they have survived till now.
Suggestions for preserving the tourist spots
1. From Lakhanpur to Baltal and Chandanwari, public and private sector should be encouraged to jointly or individually set up big shelter shed with adequate facilities of sanitation, water and electricity. Yatris could pay for night stay.
2. From Lakhapur to Baltal, after every twenty kilometers there should be public bathrooms, toilets and garbage boxes kept functional all along the road. For keeping toilets clean and tidy staff should be engaged and the service would be paid one.
3. Many yatris expire during the journey. At a distance of 25 kilometers on the entire route there should be first aid centres, and after every 50 kilometers there should be a small but well-equipped polyclinic for the service of the yatris. These could be used in cases of road accidents also.
4. Toilets at tourist spots should be in adequate number to meet the requirements of tourists
5. All tourist destinations in Kashmir should be brought under this scheme of paid conveniences. This will also create source of income to the keepers of these conveniences.
6. Dust bins in adequate numbers should be placed at the entrance to the gardens and also inside the gardens to protect them against pollution.
7. Police contingents deployed on duty at tourist destinations should be given training of how to stop public from polluting the environment. They should be given powers of apprehending those who cause pollution, fine them and bring them to book. It is desired that Environmental Section be created within the police force with specific duty of keeping environmental cleanliness around all tourist destinations. This is the practice followed in Europe and the US and has proved successful in controlling environmental cleanliness.
8. Fines should be imposed on houseboat owners with residential houses adjacent to it if they spread litter and pollute the water of the lake.
9. Sign boards should be put up on all tourist spots in English, Hindi, Urdu and local languages warning tourists that in case of polluting the environment or water bodies, a heavy fine will be imposed. Also notice boards should be displayed at these spots telling tourists about its history, significance and stories related to the spot. Instructions have to be given to the tourists through electronic media, loud speakers and other available means not to pollute water or environment or trample flower beds and green turf etc. This is to educate the tourists of developing their consciousness about maintaining cleanliness of the spot.
10. At all gardens, there should be tidy arrangement for kids’ park, recreation and amusement of the children so that they enjoy visit to these gardens to their satisfaction. The gardens will be safe from their trespassing.
11. All pipes fixed at the Kokarnag springs where fresh water flows down have to be removed. These present very ugly and repulsive look. The proper way of making use of this water is to build a covered reservoir far away from the garden and water will be carried to it by underground pipes. From this reservoir distribution of water for the use of civil population can be made.
12. A Task Force raised out of civil society is deployed at all tourist destinations with the specific duty of checking and controlling cleanliness of the environment. They will work in coordination with the tourist authorities for the respective destinations.
13. A course on protecting environment and keeping ecological cleanliness especially of tourist destination should be included in the curriculum of study from middle class upwards to the higher levels. Children of primary and middle class standards should be regularly made to visit or make excursion on school expenses to the destination to give them an idea of the utility of these spots and how to protect them from being polluted of vandalized.
14. Law should be enacted for suggesting punitive measures for those violating the laws related to environmental cleanliness. In European countries anybody found urinating in public, or throwing empty cans or bottles or crumbs or other waste material on the road is fined a minimum fine of 300-500 Euros which commutes to 21000 to 35000 rupees. The fine is recovered from the defaulter there and then. It has to be remembered that in Europe also people, apart from being conscious of their responsibility toward maintaining ecological cleanliness, also desist from breaking the rule out of fear of a big fine. It works as deterrent.
This article was published in daily 'Greater Kashmir' on 2nd Agust 2012.