Srinagar: Despite an official panel denying that the declining Hangul population in Dachigam national park is due to the sheep-breeding farm there, the government has ordered the shifting out of the farm.
Kashmir Reader has accessed an official document issued last month in which the chief secretary directed the sheep husbandry department to move out the sheep-breeding farm from the national park and to accommodate the sheep in other existing farms.
“After detailed deliberations, the chief secretary advised the commissioner secretary animal and sheep husbandry to immediately implement the 2005 cabinet decision,” the order says.
It is learnt that the sheep husbandry department has shown “unwillingness” to shift the farm unless provided with alternative land and infrastructure.
Director of the sheep husbandry department Kranti Kumar Sharma told Kashmir Reader that alternative land has to be provided in Srinagar district if the farm in Dachigam has to be moved out.
Currently, the 56-year-old Dachigam sheep farm is spread on 1,500 kanals of land and has 600 Kashmir Merino sheep and more than 60 employees.
Sharma said that not only land for the sheep but also residential accommodation for the employees has to be ensured.
He said that the government did not consider the reports of experts comprising veterinarians from both Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology and Kashmir University.
The battle between the sheep and the Hangul has blighted relations between the sheep husbandry department and the wildlife protection department. Both departments have been at loggerheads since the cabinet led by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed approved the relocating of the farm at some suitable location within a year. The decision could not be implemented as the sheep husbandry department stonewalled the move.
It was the Omar Abdullah-led government that constituted a panel of experts from Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology and Kashmir University to see whether the sheep farm could be allowed to continue in the park on “agreed terms and conditions” and also if the national board for wildlife would be willing to relax the conditions of shifting the sheep farm.
The experts included Kashmir University’s senior assistant professor at Centre for Biodiversity and Taxonomy, Dr Anzar A Khuroo, who found no “scientific merit” in the argument that the sheep farm has contributed to the declining Hangul population.
In other words, the panel of experts sided with the sheep husbandry department, which had been pleading the same case but without any consideration. The Hangul population has seen a decline from 5,000 in 1947 to 186 according to the 2015 census. The population has almost remained static since the 1990s.
Srinagar’s Regional Wildlife Warden Rashid Naqash said that the location of the farm inside the national park is not “legal”.
“No sheep farm can exist inside the national park under the wildlife act,” he said.
This argument, however, according to officials of the sheep husbandry department, is “flawed”. They argue that several departments including Hospitality and Protocol have guesthouses inside the park. “Why doesn’t the law apply to such departments,” asked an official.
Also, Dachigam national park has not been notified in the state gazette as the process of demarcating boundaries has not been done yet.