J&K Govt Bends Rules To Drain Half Of Valley’s Trout Streams11 April 2011
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Endangering almost half of Kashmir’s famed trout habitat and in violation of the J&K Fisheries Act, the state government has issued tenders for the extraction of boulders and gravel from as many as 36 freshwater streams. The tenders, issued on April 3 by the state’s Geology and Mining department, come after no-objection certificates (NOC) were issued to set up two large stone-crushers right on the banks of the most critical freshwater streams: in Lidder Valley in Pahalgam (South Kashmir) and Arin in Bandipore (North Kashmir). Directly affected are the 10 biggest trout-populated freshwater streams, including the Brengi stream in Anantnag, the Lidder in Pahalgam, the Arin and Madhumati streams in Bandipore, and the Feroz Pora stream in the Gulmarg-Tangmarg valley. All for a “royalty” of Rs 3 crore. These streams are home to a range of trout varieties, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and several indigenous species, including the Snow Trout. In a startling revelation, Bandipore district Fisheries Officer Mohammad Sidiq has admitted to The Indian Express that “there has been pressure from every quarter”. Asked to elaborate, he claimed that the department’s Director, P Angchuk, “asked me to give the no objection certificate for the stone- crusher and I had no choice. I did, however, put many conditions to make it difficult to set up the crusher because once the stone-crusher comes up, there will be no trout left. In fact, this fresh water stream too will vanish”. When contacted, Angchuk denied that the NOCs have been issued. But he, too, echoed his junior officer saying there was “a lot of political pressure” to issue the NOCs. Contrary to Angchuk’s claim, The Indian Express has a copy of one of the NOCs which clearly specifies that it was issued under Angchuk’s “telephonic instructions”. The state pollution control board has cleared the NOCs, confirmed its chief Lal Chand. One crusher NOC has gone to Fahmeeda Bano, wife of Bandipore businessman Naseer Ahmad Mir. The other has gone to one Mohammed Ramzan in Anantnag. Mir is an associate of a local politician close to the Congress and Ramzan is a former aide of an influential politician from the National Conference. Despite repeated attempts, Mir and Ramzan were not available for comment. Angchuk himself underlines that according to the J&K Fisheries Regulation Act (1960), nobody can set up a stone crusher on or near trout streams or extract boulders and gravel from them. “That will permanently destroy the natural habitat of the trout and has serious environmental implications. But we have been helpless,” Angchuk said. He claimed that the Fisheries department didn’t give a go-ahead to the Geology and Mining Department to invite tenders. But when contacted, the Director, Geology and Mining, Ishtiyaq Ashai, said that his department issued the tenders only after a “detailed consultation” with the Fisheries department.