During his visit almost a decade ago, then governor of the J&K state N N Vohra said Sonamarg, the golden meadow, is turning into a concrete jungle. Situated on the banks of the Sindh river, Sonamarg has been taking an environmental beating for a long even as a Development Authority has been already set up to regulate constructions and preserve its ecology.
The unchecked construction within such ecological fragile zones has not only led to severe degradation of the environment but will only lead to more disasters. The glaciers there are needed for our natural water drainage systems which are already badly impacted.
Often repeated claims by the authority that no illegal constructions are allowed notwithstanding, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently observed that illegal constructions are done and the requests by the authorities is couched as permission for renovation or repairs. The court observed that in the ruse of damage on account of snow or fire, permission (s) are obtained to carry out large scale unauthorized constructions, expansions and encroachments. Ironically, as observed by the court, most of these are being sought and carried out by persons who have no right in the lands at all.
The high court, common to both J&K and lakdakh, underlined that it was “absolutely imperative to check this illegal activity as the unauthorized construction in the eco-fragile area was irreversible, damaging the environment. The damage is such that it cannot be compensated monetarily even as the present populace, as well as the generations to come, will have to pay a huge price for it. The court issued a set of directions for documents to be demanded from the people while seeking the permissions for building, construction, renovation and repairs. And in no case permission shall be granted to persons having no right, title or interest to occupy the land, the court directed. It may be true that the construction of hotels and other infrastructure is needed for the tourism industry but there has to be a balance between ecology and business. It is imperative that the former dictate the rules or else, places like Sonamarg would disappear in their essence. Also, there is a need to ensure strict implementation of Solid Waste Management Bye-Laws in Sonamarg and other ecologically fragile areas. The hotel waste should in no way go untreated and laws in place would ensure it, provided if they are implemented in true letter and spirit.