“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Dachigam’s Ecological Holocaust

by | Oct 29, 2010 | Blog

Adil describes lofty expectations and sad reality surrounding the Dachigam National Park. Iqbal shares his sadness by noting how Kashmir’s premier national park has degenerated into an ordinary municipal park. Original commentary by Adil, followed by a comment from Iqbal

(Mr. Adil Bhat, 32, was born in Srinagar. He completed his school education from the Sri Pratap Higher Secondary School, and completed his B.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. He completed his Master’s degree in Ecology from Bangalore, and subsequently, took field assignments in Himachal Pradesh, Srinagar and Ladakh. Mr. Bhat currently works at an environmental NGO in Bangalore.

Mr. Sheikh Iqbal, 35, was born in Srinagar. He completed his schooling locally and graduated with a B.Sc. from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. He subsequently completed an MBA from Bangalore. An avid nature lover, Mr. Iqbal pursues activities by virtue of which nature can be respected. For example, when he goes hiking on a nature trail, he tries to study every thing related to nature that comes his way, while enjoying the scenary as well.)

Changing face of Dachigam National Park

Adil Bhat

The concept of creating National Parks originated in the 19th century, by preserving some especially attractive and notable areas, but the pursuits of commerce, lifestyle and recreation combined with increases in human population have continued to result in human modification of relatively untouched areas. Such human activity often negatively impacts native flora and fauna. As such, to better protect critical habitats and preserve low-impact recreational opportunities, legal concepts of “wilderness” were established in many countries, beginning with the United States.

The first National Park established in 1872 was Yellowstone. The creation of this and other parks showed a growing appreciation of wild nature. The world’s second national park, the Royal National Park, was established in 1879 in Sydney, Australia.

This concept soon caught on in Canada, which created Banff National Park in the 1880s. Then it was during the President Roosevelt’s period that the United States began to enlarge the U.S. National Parks system, by establishing the National Forest system.

Likewise in India, the National Park movement started to gain ground with the creation of the first National Park in 1935, the Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park. By 1970, India only had five national parks. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger to safeguard the habitats of conservation reliant species. Further federal legislation strengthening protection of wildlife was introduced in the 1980s. As of April 2007, the total number of national parks India had stood at 96 and the land encompassed under these national parks was 38,029.18 km² i.e. 1.16% of India’s total surface area.
As of now a total number of 166 national parks have been authorized. Plans are underway to establish the remaining scheduled parks.

Since, by law, the concept of creating a National Park is to have an ecologically the most intact, undisturbed wild natural area which is representative of a bigger geographical area that once used to be afar from the human interference and control, hence as per a broad definition these National Parks have two dimensions i.e. these areas must be biologically intact and legally protected. Because, the wilderness character of a National Park is supposed to support the area as repository of genetic material (gene bank), the precursors of the present-day biodiversity found in that particular geographical area, hence have a great genetic value. Besides, ecologically, these areas have a crucial role to play as they act as heart and lungs (vital organs) of the adjacent bigger geo-ecological systems which they represent, hence have an inbuilt and collective function to purify surrounding polluted atmospheres and to supply the whole system with the elixir of life – purest form of water, from its unpolluted catchments. Hence, National Parks are not only significant as potential wildlife habitats or gene banks for the biodiversity in their respective geographical areas, but have also to play a crucial role in maintaining the necessary life support systems (in terms of fresh air, pure water supply and sustenance of basic livelihoods for the communities surrounding these areas). Summing up the benefits of having National Parks, it can be safely said that these wilderness areas are the insurance policy, against the unpredicted ecological upheavals, for the present and future generations.

Having understood the preliminary ecological considerations this category of wildlife protected areas have, Jammu and Kashmir State also felt the need for bringing some of its potential wilderness areas under National Parks Network.

Since, the State of Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state of India and owing to its sharp rise of altitude from 1000 feet to 28250 feet above the sea level within State’s four degree of latitude, the state comprised of three distinct Climatic regions viz. arctic cold desert areas of Ladakh, temperate Kashmir valley and sub-tropical region of Jammu. A large part of the State forms part of the Himalayan Mountains. The State is geologically constituted of rocks varying from the oldest period of the earth’s history to the youngest present day river and lake deposits. It is this distinct climatic, altitudinal and geological variation that gives the Jammu and Kashmir State a special status with respect to its biodiversity as a result three regionally representative National Parks were declared and established in 1981 under the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978. These National Parks included:

Dachigam National Park (Kashmir Region)
Hemis High altitude National Park (Ladakh Region)
Kishtwar National Park (Jammu Region)

Later on two more National Parks were added to the list i.e. Salim Ali National Park Cheshmashahi and Kazinag National Park Varmul. These additions were formulated purely on the very basic concept of “interconnectedness for conservation” as sustained conservation required corridors that link natural wilderness areas or habitats so that clean and sufficient water, pollution free environs and preservation of genetic material could be assured for future generations which seems a task that often transcends concept of creating National Parks.

Dachigam National Park, located among the high mountains of the mighty western Himalayas with a vast variation in altitude, ranging from 5500 ft to 14000 ft above MSL and very clearly demarcated into an upper and lower region, is one of the oldest representative wilderness areas in the state which was declared as a protected area (Game Reserve) in1910 under the care of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir with the primary objective to protect the rich watershed for ensuring clean drinking water supply for the city of Srinagar. However, this stretch of wilderness area is presently shimmering under unprecedented levels of biotic interference both on the part of local communities as well as the State Government agencies. Despite the fact that the area, has come up all along from game reserve status given by the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1951 and thereafter as National Park in 1981, but it seems that with the enhancement of conservation status of Dachigam to the highest level as National Park, the values of the National Park has all along been compromised to accommodate every type of biotic interference, which otherwise having no legal constraints could have been made possible and would have come up outside the National Park area.

The ecological vandalism, Dachigam National Park is currently facing on one or another pretext is the highest one as not a single activity, on the part of custodians of this National Park or other stake holders goes well with the ecological settings, which this area is supposed to hold. Such activities have already taken the toll on the only remaining population of hangul, the only representative of Red Deer in Indian Sub-continant, as the species has already stepped into last phase of extinction process wherefrom its return would be practically impossible.

Further in this regard, not to speak of recent cloud burst at Leh, the reasons for which are yet to be ascertained in light of some Chinese Cloud Bomb connection, but it is sure that the cause of the subsequent cloud burst, during the intervening night of August 10-11, in Khonmoh-Balhama area on the outskirts of Dachigam National Park, lies well in the large scale devastation of Khrew-Khonmoh forests mainly because of the mushrooming number of cement factories and mining practices which are currently going on in the area. Such more future natural catastrophes like forest fires, droughts, floods, landslides, cloud bursts etc. could be in the offing for other areas neighboring the National Park like Nishat, Shalimar, Harwan, Dhara etc. if the present vandalizing practices in Dachigam National Park are not stopped immediately.

To see “ALL IS WELL” all the concerned, whether having direct or indirect stake and irrespective of their status and power, they are currently enjoying, are having a legitimate duty towards keeping Dachigam National Park intact as a representative wilderness area (as sterile as possible). This wilderness heritage need not to be developed with buildings, roads, animal cages and other infrastructure (iron and concrete monstrous structures), or put to such land use which though, may suit to ones individual taste, needs, and even ones larger vested interests, but such activities are likely to jeopardize the very survival of people living in the vicinity of the park, because these activities are making the ground for triggering ecological catastrophes like forest fires, droughts, floods, landslides, cloud bursts etc. Besides, the vandalizing developmental activities, knowingly or unknowingly, going on in the national park are totally in conflict with the natural processes supporting the centuries old catchment character of the National Park. Ultimately, this all is going to translate into a high intensity Ecological Holocaust with public health implications for the people at the receiving end, particularly, those living in Srinagar city and nearby areas, having dependence for their water requirements on Dachigam catchments.

Dachigam Park is in a shambles. Who cares!

Sheikh Iqbal

This refers to Adil Bhat’s article titled “Changing face of Dachigam National Park” (GK 11 October, 2010). The article should be an eye-opener for politicians and bureaucracy and the people. I appreciate Mr Adil for giving actual historical background of creating national parks as icons of conservation and also for putting the Dachigam Park in right perspective since its origin during the regime of Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. He has rightly described its present status. The park seems to be deteriorated to the extent that the visitors don’t find any difference between a municipality park and a Dachigam Park. Those responsible for its destruction are the government agencies like Sheep Breeding Farm, Fisheries Farm, Protocol Rest House and the Wildlife Department itself. Our pride Dachigam has presently been reduced to the status of a picnic spot. The entire management of Dachigam, which consists of dozens of employees, instead of managing its entire area of about 150 sq. kms, has been concentrating on 3-kms road stretch of the park from Harwan Bus Stand to Draphama VIP Lodge – the stretch generally used by VIPs. The rest of the area has virtually been handed over by the Wildlife Department to herders, grazers and cement factory owners. Dachigam Park has become a big joke. As per the residents living in its vicinity the Park had become famous for not having any wild animal in it. Then the Wildlife Department tried to catch bears and leopards outside the park and release them inside it to make people feel that some animals are there. But, these measures failed because the released animals found the park uncomfortable and moved out repeatedly. Now the wild animals are kept indoors on the entry gate of Dachigam Park to avoid visitors’ disappointment. Dachigam was famous for having Hangul (State Animal). But for the last few years the animal has vanished from the park. It is time to address the issues concerning the Park.