Illegal and extensive limestone mining by unscrupulous cement factory owners has wreaked havoc on the environment in parts of south Kashmir. Blasting of mountains has disturbed the habitat of wild animals besides endangering human life in areas around Khanmoh. While chest and eye disorders are on the rise in the area, wildlife has 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 and illegal extraction of stone and other material is gradually devouring the ranges and consequently affecting 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. Leopards are known to have taken refuge near an abandoned factory in Khanmoh. Environmentalists say that limestone mining and harmful emissions from over a dozen cement factories in the fragile zone are having an adverse impact on human population and wildlife as well as saffron and almond cultivation. In the absence of any official clearance, the mined areas are neither covered under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study, nor has any Environment Management Plan (EMP) been formulated for their eco-restoration. The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978, prohibits the destruction of the habitat of wild animals 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.”
Geologists say that unplanned mining directly contributes to air, noise and water pollution, threatening wild animals in the Dachigam National Park. Heavy blasting in the area increases the vibration level and causes soil erosion. Emission levels in the area have been found to be higher than those permitted by the Ministry of Environment. This, they say, is having a detrimental impact on human life, vegetation and wildlife. Due to heavy blasting, the noise level in the areas has gone beyond permissible limits. Water in these areas shows impurities of dissolved gases like hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide besides dissolved minerals of salts of calcium, magnesium and sodium, they say. As per the Mines Act 1952, according to experts, a lessee is required to make benches which should be sloped at an angle less than 60 degrees, and the height of the bench should not exceed six metres. But mining 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 deplorable that the Department of Geology and Mining allots leases without ground work, and allows vandalization of the environment.