Cover story, January 2014
Govt examining proposal that may vandalize Gulmarg’s ecology
By Ajaz Rashid
Just three years after the Amarnth land row, the government is considering the proposal of the Indian Air Force to set up Mountain Radar at Apharbhat and construct a 12-km concrete road from Gulmarg to Apharbhat Peak that may have disastrous consequences on the Gulmarg’s ecology and economy. Kashmir Scan reports
Is another Amarnath land row in the making? Has the government not learnt from the mistakes it committed while transferring the State land to the Amarnath shrine board leading to the killings of 142 civilians during the 2010 mass uprising and bringing the Hindu-majority Jammu region and Muslim-majority Kashmir region at loggerheads. Apparently, it does not seem so.
This time around, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat is considering the proposal of the Indian Air Force (IAF) about setting up of Mountain Radar at Apharbhat. The IAF has also proposed to construct 12-km concrete road from Gulmarg bowel to Apharbhat Peak.
Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Bharat Bhushan Vyas in a letter addressed to the Commissioner Secretary to the Government, Public Works Department, writes that the Air Force Commander, Air Force Station Srinagar, B Balachandran during his interaction with the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in October 2013 had informed that the Indian Air Force proposes to install a Mountain Radar at Mount Apharbhat in Gulmarg, which is famous for attracting tourists for its breathtaking meadows and skiers for the powdery snow slopes.
In the letter No MC/PRS/HCM, Jammu/ Srinagar dated 2nd December 2013 writes that presently Apharbat is connected to the Gulmarg bowel through a 52 km road reportedly circuitous and unfit for plying of vehicles carrying heavy equipment.
The CM’s principal secretary writes that resultantly the IAF Commanding officer had requested the chief minister for giving a considerate view to the proposal submitted to him by the CEO of the Gulmarg Development Authority for the construction of an alternate concrete road of 12 km.
Vyas directed the Commissioner Secretary to Government Public Works (R&B) Department to examine the IAF’s proposal and take appropriate action in the installation of the Mountain Radar and construction of the 12 km concrete road on Apharbhat-Gulmarg slopes.
Though the government has not given a go ahead to IAF yet the work on it is already underway with the Joint Director Public Works department sending reminder after reminder to the Chief Engineer Public Works Department about the construction of the road from Gulmarg to Apharbhat leading to the installation of the Mountain Radar.
Joint Director (Planning) Public Works (R&B) Department has so far sent two reminders to the Chief Engineer, Public Works (R&B) Department, Kashmir with the second reminder sent under letter No PW/R&B/Plan/64/2012dated 20th December 2013.
“Kindly refer to the department letter of even number dated 10th December 2013 and 17th December 2013 regarding the subject,” the joint director writes. “The requisite report, information and comments in the matter are still awaited and kindly expedite.”
Meanwhile, Office of the Executive Engineer, Gulmarg Development Authority had also written to the Chief Engineer Public Works (R&B) Department, Kashmir under letter No GDA/Divn/2265-69 dated 26th December 2013.
The Executive Engineer, Gulmarg Development Authority while referring to the Government Reference No. PW/R&B/Plan/64/2012 dated 20th December 2013 and Chief Engineer (R&B) Kashmir’s No PS/25092 dated 20th December 2013, writes that the IAF proposes to install a Mountain Radar and Mount Apharbhat in Gulmarg and Air Force Station, Srinagar proposes to construct a road from Gulmarg bowel to Apharbhat peak.
Presently, Apharbhat peak is connected by road through Botapathri having a length of 52 km and is out of bounds for the locals as a “security measure”.
The Gulmarg Development Authority has raised its concerns about the environment hazards to the region if the government goes ahead with the proposal.
“The proposed road of 12 km from Gulmarg bowel to Apharbhat via Sarson will damage entire forest area having slopes which are being used for international skiing during winter sports activities,” the Gulmarg Development Authority wrote to the Chief Engineer Public Works (R&B) Department. “The construction of the road will badly affect the entire winter tourism potential in Gulmarg.”
The IAF proposal, if implemented, would also hit the Gulmarg Gondola as the alignment of Gondola cable car runs through this area having the last station of Gondola Phase 2nd at Sarson Apharbhat.
According to environmentalists, Air Force Station Srinagar’s proposed road project construction would harm the entire beauty of Gulmarg for which it is known worldwide.
The construction of the road will also damage the terrain, which is prone to heavy slides and avalanches.
The land through which the proposed road is to be constructed belongs to the Forest department as conveyed by the Managing Director State Cable Car Corporation during the discussion held about the proposal.
Presently, the Managing Director State Cable Car Corporation also hold additional charge of Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg Development Authority.
The State Cable Car Corporation has also objected to the construction of the proposed road.
The issue also needs to be taken with the Forest Department as the land is of importance as there are various types of trees along many slopes from Kongdoori to Apharbhat, which will affect the flora and fauna of the area.
The Gulmarg Development Authority as well as the State Cable Car Corporation has strongly objected to the proposed road construction.
Minister for R&B Abdul Majid Wani told Kashmir Scan that there had been no progress on the proposal so far.
“It should come from the Union Ministry of Defense,” Wani said. “Only then will we see, whether the proposal can get a go ahead or not.”
He said that after receiving the proposal from the Ministry of Defense, R&B department would first check whether the project would affect any wildlife sanctuary or forest or not.
“In case there are any objections, then the proposal may not get a go ahead,” Wani said. “So far, there is no progress on the proposal and in case, the project gets a clearance, only then can we give a go ahead.”
He said that if the project gets a go ahead, it would also be brought to the notice of the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
IAF as a part of a major security upgrade would plans to put in place a comprehensive radar system in mountains and other places to plug security gaps for quick response to any possible threat from the neighbouring Pakistan.