Cement Factories Burden

Reports that the JK Cements Ltd is running in heavy loss have come as a shock in Kashmir where people had been given to understand that the state-owned corporation was earning huge profits. Now that the reality has surfaced, the government direly needs to take a decision on all cement factories that have been polluting the environment in the name of employment and income generation. The problem created by such factories is too grave to be ignored.

Unscrupulous factory-owners have wreaked havoc on the environment in parts of south Kashmir by illegal and extensive limestone mining.  Blasting of mountains has disturbed the habitat of wild animals besides endangering human life in areas around Khanmoh. While chest and eye ailments are on the rise in the area, wild animals have been forced to seek refuge near human habitations. The Valley is blessed with lofty mountains which play an important role in maintaining its fragile eco-system, but reckless and illegal extraction of stone and other raw material has steadily devoured the ranges and damaged flora and fauna. Mining is rampant in the catchments of the Dachigam National Park and the Khrew-Khanmoh Reserve, which is the last bastion of the critically endangered Hangul or Kashmir Stag. Environmentalists say that limestone mining and harmful emissions of over a dozen cement factories in the fragile zone are telling adversely on its human population and wildlife as well as saffron and almond cultivation.

In the absence of official clearance, the mined areas are neither covered under any Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study nor has any Environment Management Plan (EMP) been formulated for eco-restoration the zone. The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1978 prohibits destruction of wildlife habitat in a National Park, Sanctuary or Conservation reserve. The wildlife conservation strategy of 2002 mandates that land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries should be notified as eco-fragile zones under the Environment (Protection) Act and Rules.  Experts believe that heavy blasting in the area increases vibration levels and causes soil erosion. Emission levels have been found to be much higher than allowed by the Ministry of Environment. Water in these areas shows impurities of dissolved gases like hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide besides dissolved minerals like salts of calcium, magnesium and sodium.

As per the Mines Act 1952, a lessee is required to make benches sloped at an angle of less than 60 degrees, with height not exceeding six metres. But rules are being openly flouted in the Zewan, Pantha Chowk and Verinag stone quarries. Contractors resort to under-cutting the mountains, which leads to their collapse. It is ironical that the Department of Geology and Mining allots mining leases without ground work and allows the vandalization of environment.