Tribune News Service
Srinagar, April 19
With stone quarrying and gypsum mining going on unabated in the eco-sensitive areas of the Dachigam National Park and the Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary in Kashmir, the wildlife authorities have sought the shifting of stone quarries and gypsum mines from these areas.
The government is still undecided and is yet to declare the areas around these two protected zones as eco-sensitive zones, as envisaged under the National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016 and Supreme Court guidelines, which call for such buffer zones around protected areas.
“Scores of stone quarries and cement plants are being run in the Khrew-Khanmoh area,” said Abdul Rouf, Wildlife Warden at the Dachigam National Park in Srinagar. Only this national park is home to the Kashmir stag hangul (cervus elaphus hanglu), a critically endangered species with between 150 and 200 left.
Located in the Pulwama district on the south of the Dachigam National Park, the Khrew-Khanmoh area is a mountain range. Most stone mines and cement factories are located in the foothills and pose a risk to the eco-sensitive zone.
“With Khrew-Khanmoh the home of the hangul and considering quarrying and mining dangerous to the habitat, we have sought shifting or relocation of these quarries and mines,” said Rouf. He added that the matter was still pending before the government authorities concerned as per the last communication.
Ten gypsum mines are being run in the immediate vicinity of the Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary in Baramulla district of north Kashmir. The wildlife sanctuary is home to two rare species, the markhor and the western tragopan (tragopan melanocephalus).
Located 90 km to the west of Srinagar, it is bound by the Line of Control to the west and the Jhelum to the south-east. “We have taken up the issue of relocating the mines with the government as these pose danger to wildlife in the long run,” said Mohammad Sadiq, Wildlife Warden at the Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary.
It was intriguing how the mines, operating deep inside forests and near protected areas, had been issued no-objection certificates by the authorities. Sources revealed that the licences of a majority gypsum mines had expired and those were being run in violation of the law.
Cement dust a hazard
Scientific studies have proved that stone quarrying and dust emanating from cement plants are an environmental hazard. A study on the affects of cement dust on saffron in the Krew area of Pulwama district, where most stone quarries and cements plants are located, has concluded that saffron production in areas in the vicinity have reduced from 150g per kanal to 70g per kanal. “The study has shown that dust from cement plants affects the leaf surface by blocking stomata, affecting photosynthesis,” said associate professor Farooq Ahmad Lone, group leader at the Centre for Climate Change and Mountain Agriculture at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Kashmir. Sources said only Saifco Cements and J-K Cements had installed state-of-the-art equipment to contain the emission of cement dust. A majority of cement plants in the Khrew-Khanmoh area are owned by well-connected business groups of the Valley like Khyber, Arco and Trumboos.
Pollution board to take call
“The cement plant authorities should comply with pollution control norms. Since you have brought the matter to my notice, I will look into it,” said Javed Iqbal Punjoo, Member Secretary, J&K State Pollution Control Board. He said the issue of shifting stone quarries and cement plants near protected areas was pending before the government. The J&K High Court had banned quarrying in forest areas of the state, but the authorities had not taken any step to close mining operations near protected areas and regulate mining and stone quarrying in other areas.
SC for wildlife board nod
Eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are meant to create a “shock absorber” for protected areas and act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to those involving less protection. It was decided in January 2002 that land within 10 km of the boundary of a national park or a wildlife sanctuary should notified as an eco-fragile zone. The National Board of Wildlife decided on March 17, 2005, that the delineation of eco-sensitive zones would have to be site-specific and related to regulation of specific activities rather than prohibition. This was communicated to all states. Subsequent to a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court ordered on December 4, 2006, that all cases where environmental clearance had been granted and activities like stone quarrying and limestone or gypsum mining were being carried out within a 10-km zone be referred to the standing committee of the wildlife board.
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