How To Destroy Nature’s Bounty While Talking About Caring For It

  • Peerzada Naveed Suhail Madni
  • Publish Date: Apr 9 2018 1:57AM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 9 2018 1:57AM
How To Destroy Nature’s Bounty While Talking About Caring For It

Panzath village is a microcosm of the malaise afflicting Kashmir: we pretend to care for the environment while going about destroying it with abandon 

 

Entering Kashmir from Qazigund, a narrow road branches off the national highway about a kilometre ahead of the town. The snaky metalled road, shaded by dusty trees for the most part, leads to Panzath.

Panzath is a cautionary tale. 

The name means “five hundred springs”. The village indeed has many springs, but none has counted anywhere close to five hundred, including Parvez Dewan, who writes about it in his book on Kashmir. It is also fed by a river, known as Panzath Naag, from which a number of canals spring, supplying water for drinking and irrigation. 

Panzath’s main spring is Naagbal, by the shrine of Sheikh Aftab Sahib. The depth of the greenish spring, full of fish and weed, is the stuff of legend. “It has never been measured,” residents claim. Three mighty chinars shadow the shrine and the spring. On the opposite bank is the village’s eidgah, also shaded by a chinar. Further ahead are vast meadows, used as pastures and playground, that open towards fields and orchards. The river flows through small green hills. It is quite a captivating sight and explains why Kalhana mentioned Panzath as a favourite picnic spot of kings in his legendary chronicle Rajtarangini.

Look closer, though, and there’s rot – a living example of how Kashmir has squandered the great bounty of nature with likely devastating consequences.

The river today is home to a few ducks. “This is nothing. There used to be hundreds of them back in the day,” says Masood Ahmad, ruing the lost glory of the river. Residents say algae and weeds, sure signs of excessive pollution, choked the river until being removed recently. Trees grown near the edge of the river to reclaim a part of the bed were chopped down as well. But despite the cleaning, bundles of polyethylene and plastic can easily be seen on the river bed. Turns out that a significant amount of money was given for cleaning the river last year, but only a fraction was used. “They got an earthmover to remove the weeds and algae,” says a resident. “And to remove the polyethylene, they tried to till the bed with a tractor.” It clearly didn’t work as just a quick look would reveal. 

If there is one thing the river has been cleaned of, though, it’s fish, says another resident Peer Masroor, adding that Panzath Naag was famous for its rainbow trout. “Those old days of illiteracy were better than today’s when the water bodies were at least considered sacred,” says Masroor’s aged father.

The funds for cleaning the river were provided after countless pleas over the years by the Auqaf Committee and other residents. “The funds were looted, not used,” the residents alleged. 

Recently, a team from Government Degree College Anantnag visited the village to clean the river but “found the situation appalling”, and returned. “There is no dumping site,” said Samreena, the programme coordinator of the team, “Every inch of the river and the surrounding area is dirty.” So much so, she adds, that there “seems no hope for the river to survive”.

Panzath’s residents share the sense of despondency. “The Maulvi Sahab used to deliver sermons about the importance of the river every Friday but he too has stopped now,” says Mohammad Amin, a villager. 

Since most houses sit on the banks of the river and its distributaries, sewage flows directly into the water, along with polyethylene, plastic and other household refuse. If that wasn’t enough, the banks have been encroached upon or concretised at several places, hampering its flow and squeezing it in. Near the Panchayat office and the fisheries department quarters, the river bank has not just been encroached upon but a road has been laid after illegally filling up some of the river. That even the fisheries department has taken no action is testament to the apathy of the residents and, of course, the administration. The residents may talk at length about being concerned about the destruction of their river but, from this evidence, they don’t seem to care much. If at all, only older villagers appear to be saddened by the destruction they have been witness to. “There used to be three times as much water in the river about thirty years ago,” says an old villager. “The river is dying, it has been destroyed.”