SHOPIAN: More than a year has passed since the Wildlife Department received compensation for damage done by contractors while working on projects on Mughal Road, including electric transmission development company Sterlite. But the restoration process is yet to show any signs of starting off.
The heavy damages were inflicted by different companies contracted for projects like the construction of Mughal Road and the laying of power lines to the valley through the heart of the Hirpora sanctuary. Sources from the department told Kashmir Reader that the department received compensation of Rs 245 lakh by the end of 2017, but the damages done by the companies are yet to be repaired by the department, with the amounts lying unused.
According to the officials, the contracts for laying power lines and construction of Mughal Road were approved with lists of terms and conditions signed by the contractors as well as by the Wildlife Protection Department. The officials said that later during the work process, most of the terms and conditions were violated by the contractors, resulting in heavy damage to the 341 square kilometre sanctuary situated in the Pir Panjal mountain range in this South Kashmir district.
The Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary is considered the home of the endangered Pir Panjal Markhor and of dozens of other endangered wild animals. The sanctuary is also the hub of dozens of medicinal plants, including Jogi Badshah, the king of medicinal herbs, and of many heart disease-curing medicines.
Insiders from the Wildlife Department said that no work on restoration of damages had been done since 2017; on the contrary, an unharmed patch of green grass was damaged and new grass was sown in its place.
“Instead of covering the area which was damaged by the contractors, they choose a green slope, damaged its grass and sowed new grass on it. It was an attempt at eyewash, and I believe the department is trying to swallow the compensation amount among the officials,” one of the officials said.
The Mughal Road construction was completed in 2010, but without roadside bunds to prevent soil erosion nor has the department undertaken to construct any ever since. Heavy rains and snow lead to more erosion of soil, reducing the area under green cover and also damaging the road, another official said.
Not only the damage to the sanctuary, the delay in the repair of the damage has led to heavy pollution in the Rambiara rivulet. Hundreds of villages and towns in south Kashmir are dependent on Rambiara for water supply. Experts said that the construction waste left by the contractors on the Rambiara’s banks have led to severe water pollution.
“Once it starts raining, all the mud and waste roll down in rivulets, and people in Shopian and other areas are forced to drink mud water instead of potable water,” said Muhammad Abid, an environmental expert, adding that the concerned departments should raise bunds, remove the waste and stop soil erosion by planting more and more trees, particularly on the areas damaged by the contractors.
Officials also said that the power lines contractors used heavy machinery even after signing an agreement not to and damaged hundreds of green slopes in the process. They said that after using the machinery, they also carried out blasting to break through the mountains, creating heavy disturbance to the sanctuary’s wildlife.
Divisional Wildlife Warden Ifshana Dewan could not be reached despite several tries on phone.
However a senior official from the Wildlife Department said that they have completed estimates of the damages and some have been approved by the regional wildlife authorities.
“It’s a sensitive work,” he said. “Last year, a team of officials visited the sanctuary and took stock of the damages and estimates. The work on the same will be started by this year, after the clearance of snow in the area.” The officer added that nobody would be allowed to any carry out embezzlement and that the department is keen to develop the sanctuary and repair damages.