With the state government failing to provide proper planning to huge influx of tourists in ecologically fragile Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, a study revealed that it could cause severe disasters in the region.
“Huge flow of tourists coupled with growing urbanization in tourist places of Kashmir is likely to invite disaster risks particularly related to water,” a study claimed.
The study collectively by four environmental researchers Sreoshi Singh(Nepal), S.M. Tanvir Hassan (Bangladesh), Masooma Hassan (Pakistan) and Neha Bharti (India), which was published in Water Policy’ in February this year revealed that Himalayas in Kashmir region had witnessed unplanned urbanization due to which no proper planning is done to tackle environmental crisis.
As per the study, Tourism (specifically, religious tourism has played crucial role in creating new urban centres and expanding existing ones thanks to improved accessibility, drawing thousands of pilgrims each year.
“Developmental trends, religious tourism activities and ill planned urbanization in the Himalayan states have caused pollution, traffic congestion and over exploitation of natural resources which has taken a heavy toll on the Himalayan ecology,” the study claims.
The study said that the smaller settlements, market towns remain unclassified as urban centers in the Himalayan regions due to which no proper planning is done to tackle environment disasters.
Dealing with the challenges of sustainable religious tourism has been a concern all over the globe with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimating that 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year.
Commenting on the recent study, valley based environment experts said that the concerned authorities have disowned the pollution caused by religious tourism—which causes damage to the rivers around and the Ecology.
“Problems of water, air, noise pollution, and solid and liquid waste management increase due the religious tourism. The conservation communities, concerned authorities and holy cave managements and the pollution control board have to come up with solutions to the problems which are damaging our environment and plaguing many of our reserves, “they said.
According to the official sources, thousands of pilgrims visit Amarnath holy cave and Mata Vaishno Devi every year and an average person generates about a kilogram of waste every day. “Plastics, Municipal waste and the excrement of ponies and donkeys go into the rivers," sources said.
They said the rivers provide water to two million people throughout Kashmir.
According to an assessment report prepared by Kashmir’s Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) after the September 2014 floods, ecological degradation across the state is a major catalyst of natural disasters.
The study revealed that since 1992 Kashmir has lost 10 percent of its forest cover as tourism infrastructure encroached into wooded areas.
It revealed that in the last century, the state’s total extent of water bodies plummeted from 356 square km in 1911 to just 158 square km in 2011.
Environment Policy Group (EPG), Convener, Faiz Bakshi, told Rising Kashmir that besides environmental degradation, due to religious tourism, our important rivers are getting polluted.
State Pollution Control Board Kashmir, Regional Director, Syed Nadeem Hussain told Rising Kashmir that initially there were mainly problems of water pollution at Amarnath cave shrine. However later some of the problems were solved.
"The Pahalgam side is much better. But, still, there are problems from the Baltal side. The area from Baltal side, which was selected for dumping municipal waste doesn't meet the criteria for municipal waste landfill site," he said.
He said the site is 120 kilo metres away from the river Sindh. The landfill site should be 150 kms away from the river.
"We are working on it. Hopefully all the problems will be solved. We are going to update the Effluent Treatment Plant from the Baltal side," he said.
He said, the sewerage and kitchen waste was directly going into the Lidder and Sindh rivers. "But we have taken measures. We have two effluent treatment plants in place, one at Pahalgam and another at Baltal, which we are going to upgrade soon."
He said, at Pahalgam, there is a Sewage Treatment plant, landfill site where all the municipal waste is being dumped." They have also installed mechanical disintegrator. "