Illegal and extensive mining for extraction of limestone by the unscrupulous cement factory owners has wreaked havoc with the environment in parts of south Kashmir. Blasting of mountains has disturbed the habitat of the wild animals besides endangering human life in areas around Khanmoh. While, chest and eye ailments are on the rise in the area, the wild animals have been forced to seek refuge near residential areas.
The Valley is blessed with lofty mountains, which play an important role in maintaining its fragile eco-system but reckless extraction of stones and other raw material illegally is gradually devouring the mountains and subsequently affecting the flora and fauna. Mining was rampant in the catchments of the Dachigam National park and Khrew-Khanmoh conserve reserve, which is the last bastion of critically endangered Hangul or Kashmir stag. Environmentalists say the mining of limestone and the harmful emissions of over a dozen cement factories in the fragile zone are adversely affecting the human population and wildlife besides saffron and almond production. In the absence of any official clearance, the mined areas are not covered under the environment impact assessment study neither has environment management plan been formulated for eco-restoration of the mined areas. The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978 prohibits destruction of habitat of a wild animal in a national park, sanctuary or conservation reserve.
The wildlife conservation strategy 2002 mandates that “land falling within 10 kms of the boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries should be notified as eco-fragile zones under Environment (Protection) Act and Rules. Unplanned mining directly contributes to air, noise and water pollution, threatening the wild animals in the Dachigam National Park. Heavy blasting in the area increases the vibration level and causes soil erosion. Emission levels in the affected areas were higher than the prescribed emission of air pollution prescribed by the Ministry of Environment, experts believe. Water in these areas shows impurities of dissolved gases of hydrogen sulphate, carbon dioxide besides dissolved minerals of salts of calcium, magnesium and sodium. Experts say that as per the Mines Act 1952, a lessee is required to make benches which shall be sloped at the angle less than 60 degree and height of the bench shall not exceed six meters. However, the mining rules are being openly flouted in Zewan, PanthaChowk andVerinag stone quarries. The contractors resort to under-cutting the mountains, which leads to their collapse. It is ironical that the department of geology and mining allots the leases without ground work and allows vandalisation of the environment.
Sheikh Muhammad Ismaiel