“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Zeenat laments about government’s continuing indifference to pollution caused by brick kilns, cement factories and lime quarries

(Ms. Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, 26, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She did her schooling from King George (Mumbai) and later Cambridge (New Delhi), and received her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kashmir in 2008. Presently, she is also pursuing her second Masters degree in Mass Communications through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In 1998, she began her career as a freelance journalist with leading national newspapers and simultaneously joined ‘Fazil Kashmiri Publications’ as Editor and Publisher, and is also an editor of the ‘Focus’. Ms. Fazil has written a book on Mass Media and Linguistics (2006), and ‘Falcons of Paradise'(2009), a reference book contains 100 Eminent Personalities of J&K starting from 14th century till date. After working for ‘Daily Etaalat’- a Srinagar based Newspaper in 2007-2008; she joined ‘Daily Kashmir Images’ as a Senior Correspondent by the end of 2008. She is also currently associated with ‘Charkha’, a foundation that highlights the developmental concerns of marginalized section of Kashmiri society particularly in rural areas and to draw out perspectives on women through their writings. Ms. Fazil is also associated with ‘Interchurch Peace Council Netherlands’ which is intensely involved in several conflict areas such as in Kashmir. In 2009, she joined the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). She has received numerous awards for her meritorious contribution in the field of literature. Her interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel,and gender related topics.)

Black Carbon Threatens Kashmir Environment

While the world at large has woken up to the environmental concerns, Kashmir is yet to realize the importance and that is why very little is talked about the hazards that are challenging the eco equilibrium of the place. Vehicles plying the roads; brick kilns; cement factories or the lime quarries pump black carbon, formed through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, and other harmful pollutants, freely into the air.

Produced through diesel combustion and biomass burning, black carbon is now being recognized as a major contributor to climate change by scientists. Earlier, it was overlooked.

Black carbon – the overlooked threat

The good news is that black carbon stays in the atmosphere for only a short time, in contrast to carbon dioxide, which has an atmospheric lifetime of more than a century. However, the bad news: it appears to be capable of causing rapid environmental damage in the short time it is present.

In regions like the Himalayas, black carbon is seen too risky as it makes the snow melt faster.

According to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the presence of black carbon over highly reflective surfaces, such as snow and ice, or clouds, may cause a significant positive radiative forcing.

The IPCC also notes that emissions from biomass burning, which usually have a negative forcing, have a positive forcing over snow fields in areas such as the Himalayas.

In regions, like the Himalayas, the impact of black carbon on melting snow pack and glaciers may be equal to that of CO2. Warmer air resulting from the presence of black carbon in South and East Asia over the Himalayas contributes to a warming of approximately 0.6 °C.

An “analysis of temperature trends on the Tibetan side of the Himalayas” reveals warming in excess of 1 °C. Black Carbon (BC) record based on a shallow ice core drilled from the East Rongbuk glacier showed a dramatic increasing trend of BC concentrations in the ice stratigraphy since the 1990s, and simulated average radiative forcing caused by BC was nearly 2 W m?2 in 2002. This large warming trend is the proposed causal factor for the accelerating retreat of Himalayan glaciers, which threatens fresh water supplies and food security in China and India.

Given its tendency to cause instant damage, black carbon emissions in Kashmir obviously pose an additional danger to Kashmir’s glaciers, says Dr. Javeed Iqbal Ahmad Bhat Associate Professor, Division of Environmental Sciences, SKUAST.

Car ownership is booming
Pollution from vehicles is emerging as the primary source of black carbon. Mohummad Yousuf, Statistical Officer, at Regional Transport authority, Kashmir says the number of vehicles registered in his office on 28 02.2011 stood at 294381 that include both commercial and non commercial ones.

Apart from private vehicles, thousands of diesel-fuelled vehicles, used by the Indian army and paramilitary forces, navigate the roads of Kashmir.

Illegal fuel openly sold
State Pollution control board says that more than 55 per cent of Kashmir’s vehicles do not conform to pollution norms. “Adulterated fuel – kerosene mixed with diesel to make more profit – worsens the problem,” says the pollution control board director, Syed Farooq Geelani. This illegal fuel is openly sold along the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

“The smoke density of more than 60 per cent of diesel-fuelled vehicles does not conform to the existing permissible level,” said Geelani. “Surprisingly, one of our surveys has revealed that more than 80 per cent of these vehicles possess pollution-control certificates.”

The certificates are issued by various outlets across Kashmir which are registered with the General Transport Department. The certificates from these outlets are usually unreliable since the issuers, according to officials of other government departments, accept money for providing fake certificates.

Vehicles are not the only culprits though; brick kilns are also among the major emitters of black carbon. A recent survey by the pollution control board found 374 kilns operative. Interesting to note that out of these 374, only 59 are run under proper government authorization. Similarly, there are 204 stone crushers, of which only 83 are authorised by the authorities.

Closure orders ignored
In Budgam there are some 260 brick kilns operational of which the Pollution Control Board has order4ed closure/suspension of 102. But the orders have never been implemented on the ground.

In Anantnag out of 64 brick kilns, 49 have been ordered to stop operation; in Pulwama, out of 58, closure orderes have been issued for 19; in Kulgam, 31 kilns were ordered to be closed out of 38.

However, the closure orders are being ignored and the brick kilns continue to operate. The authorities say that they are not issuing any new licenses. The people of the affected areas say such orders never lead to action. “Orders for closing the brick kilns were issued in the past as well, but were observed only in the breach,” said Farooq Ahmed of Zewan, Pampore where most of the brick kilns exist.

Conservative estimates say that if an average kiln burns 15 tons of fuel a year, meaning together they all burn around 5,000 tons of fuel. What concerns the campaigners most is the fact that the lowest quality of coal is being burnt in these kilns, as well as rubber tyres to save costs.

Little government action
The preparation of the State of Environment Report (SOER), a compulsory survey aimed to assess damage to the Jammu and Kashmir’s environment, is suffering unnecessary delay as the concerned government departments have failed to submit inputs to the nodal agency regarding the environmental protection activities undertaken by them. The survey assumes significance in the backdrop of unchecked felling of trees, unplanned developmental activities and vandalization of other natural resources including water in Kashmir over the past two decades, which is considered to be among the main reason responsible for inconsistent climate change in the state.
There hasn’t been any effective government response to the growing atmospheric pollution, and State of Environment Report (SOER’s) state coordinator, Abida Wahid Deva says, one of the main reasons for the delay was lack of awareness about the environment but “we are on it and hopefully it will be published soon.”

Kashmir may currently lack the technology to reduce black carbon emissions, but scientists say that reduction using existing technology is a relatively cheap and easy way to significantly restrict global warming.

One example of this would involve switching over to fuels such as compressed natural gas rather than diesel and petrol. Making public transport a more comfortable alternative to private cars could be another step. Terming the reduction of black carbon, a ‘low-hanging fruit,’ scientists say it should be plucked immediately to buy time when the world is driving fast toward a cliff in terms of climate change.