PAHALGAM (Anantnag): With massive human intervention is playing havoc with the scenic Baisaran meadow and its surroundings in this famed tourist spot, authorities have failed in taking any measures for protection of the environment.
About 7 kilometers from Pahalgam, the green meadow is surrounded by tall alpines all around.
The virgin meadow, in which the tribal families and shepherds used to graze their cattle, has, in the last several years, emerged as one of the favorite tourist spot due to its enchanting beauty.
Lakhs of visitors from within and outside Kashmir Valley travel to the meadow every year.
A couple of years ago, the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA), keeping in view the huge tourist influx, decided to set up an entry ticket counter at its entrance, and the same was subsequently outsourced.
Even as the arrangement has helped the PDA and the Forest department earn lakhs of rupees from the visitors, nothing has been done to preserve the greenery of the meadow and the fragile environs around it.
A large patch of the meadow in front of the two big food stalls set up recently with authorities’ permission has completely lost its greenery.
“This patch was as green as the rest of the meadow, but the presence of these food stalls has ruined it. Even a slight drizzle turns this patch into a pool of mud,” said a local tourist guide, Manzoor Ahmad.
Besides, the waste from the food stalls is being dumped amidst the green alpines at the rare side.
Ironically, the PDA authorities have also allowed Zorbing on the green slopes of the meadow in the name of adventure tourism. The activity is posing a severe threat to the meadow’s greenery.
Absence of the toilet blocks further pollutes the environs of the area, with tourists defecating in open behind the alpines. The tourist spot only has a makeshift urinal covered with tarpaulin on all sides.
“During the tourist season, two to three thousand tourists visit the meadow daily. In absence of the facilities, they are forced to defecate in open and harm the environment,” said a local Javed Ahmad.
A few years ago, the authorities constructed a road up to the meadow. But most pony owners avoid the road and chose shortcuts to reach the meadow through the thick forests, resulting in vandalisation of the forests.
A local environmental activist Mushtaq Pahalgami accused the authorities of vandalising the ecologically-fragile area for promotion of adventure tourism.
“Adventure tourism is alright but you cannot promote it at the cost of the nature. Tourists visit the meadow for its greenery, not for Zorbing,” Pahalgami said.
He said the forest authorities not playing their role of preserving the area was more surprising.
“Despite getting money a few years back, the authorities have not fenced the meadow. Besides, neither PDA nor MCP has so far constructed toilet blocks or urinals for tourists in the area,” Pahalgami said.
Divisional forest officer (DFO), Lidder, Mohammad Ashraf Katoo, said they would soon start fencing the meadow.
“We have received money from PDA for the purpose last year, but we could not have started the work without administrative approval. Now that the approval has come, we will soon start fencing the area. Besides, other measures to preserve the area will also be taken,” the DFO told Kashmir Reader.
After fencing, the department, he said, would install entry ticket counter of its own and will also stop all activities, including Zorbing, going on in the meadow.
The chief executive officer of PDA, Riyaz Ahmad Wani, did not respond to the repeated calls from Kashmir Reader.