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Kashmir's Trouts in Troubled Waters
|by F. Ahmed|
There was a time in this beautiful state of mountains and valleys when horses were not allowed to cross the mountain streams for fear of trout fingerlings getting crushed under its hooves. That was when the kings ruled Kashmir. Times have changed. Now permissions are given for the extraction of sand and gravel from the trout streams and setting up of stone crushers on its banks.
Highly disturbing facts have come to light here regarding the issuance of no objection certificates by the local fisheries department for the extraction of gravel, sand and stones and setting up of stone crushers on the banks of protected trout fish reserves.
In one particular case, a no objection certificate has been issued by the fisheries authorities for setting up a stone crusher by the banks of the Arin trout stream in Bandipora district.
The Arin is a super class trout stream established more than 100 years ago.
"Under the fisheries protection act, the Arin stream has been declared as protected up to the Papchan Bridge. The stone crusher is proposed to be established at Gundbal, three kilometres upstream from Papchan Bridge," fisheries department sources told IANS.
The geology and mining department has gone to the extent of advertising in newspapers, seeking tenders for the extraction of sand, gravel and boulders from local rivers and streams. The list seeking tenders includes some of the highly protected trout stream areas classified as "Trout Reserves". The areas specified in the tender notice include those from Mallapora village to Wayil Bridge in Ganderbal district, Aribal Nehama to Brozuloo bridge in Kulgam, Brangi rivulet from Duksum downstream Hiller bridge in Anantnag, Lidder stream from Akoora downstream up to confluence in Jhelum River in Anantnag, Rambiare Dabjan stream to Rangkada in Shopian, Arin stream Gundbal to Wullar Lake in Bandipora among others. All these are trout reserve areas according to the fisheries protection act.
According to experts, a trout reserve is a stretch of the river at the end of the stream boundary where fishing is not allowed because the area is reserved for breeding, feeding and for the safety of the fish species during high currents. Allowing extractions in the areas would naturally play havoc with the species and their natural habitat, they allege.
Although an internal communication by the director of the local geology and mining department has specified that no excavation should be allowed in specified streams, it is alarming that trout reserves of these very streams are up for grabs for miners, experts say. The ban on extractions covers streams including Lidder, Brangi and Kokernag (Anantnag district), Sindh (Ganderbal), Hirpora (Shopian) Lam and Narastan (Pulwana), Dood Ganga (Badgam), Madhumati and Arin (Bandipora), Ferozpora (Baramulla) and the Mawar (Kupwara).
It is estimated that allowing extraction and establishment of stone crushers close to the protected trout fish streams would fetch the state additional revenue of over Rs.3 crore.
Abdul Salam, 59, a local fish farmer, refused to accept this logic.
"For three crore rupees we are allowing the destruction of our most valued heritage, the trout fish, which were brought here by the British around 1905 and bred in the mountain streams," Salam said. "Over 10,000 people, 90 percent of them Europeans, used to come here each year till 1988-89 fetching us millions in foreign exchange. The revenue generated would be used for preservation, farming and protection of the trout fish in our streams," he recalled.
Compounding the crisis, the authorities have also been allowing rafting in the Sindh stream in the north and Lidder in south of the Kashmir Valley.
"Initially only brown trout were introduced in the local streams by the British around 1905. Rainbow trouts were introduced in the virgin streams of the Valley later in 1985 by the department. Besides their introduction in natural habitats, the rainbow trout are also cultivated in many farms maintained by the local fisheries department," said experts.
The trout fish breed from the beginning of October up to the end of March every year and during this period angling is not permitted in the streams. The local fish, which includes snow trout (common name of the local fish species known scientifically as Schizothorax) breed during April, May and June months, when angling is again banned.
A study of fishing offences in recent years shows that 95 percent of violators of the fisheries protection act were those found extracting sand, gravel and stones from the protected natural habitats of trout fish. They are usually let off after charging some minor monetary compensation ranging from Rs.50 to Rs.250, according to sources.
"Unless the government rises up to the issue and stops the extraction of sand, gravel, stones, etc., from the trout streams and the setting up of stone crushers close to the fish habitats, this wonderful heritage of Kashmir would be lost for ever," rued Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian.
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