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

Arjimand addresses environmental challenges in J&K

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

What J&K’s State of Environment Report Can and Cannot Avoid

Though late by eight years, it is fantastic news that Jammu & Kashmir will shortly have its first State of Environment (SoE) Report. We always needed such a report quite badly. The simple reason being that we are in a pathetic condition environmentally today. And, worse, that we are deteriorating quite fast.

Now that we are going to have such a report, our first aim must be a major policy overhaul, and not a mere research-based report. A policy overhaul must be followed up with verifiable action on implementation and enforcement.

For centuries, our state, especially the Kashmir and Ladakh regions, have attracted travelers from across the globe for relishing their special environment. We have ourselves always relished the quality of our life because of the special air, water and other elements of Kashmir’s physical environment. But what has heralded some sort of Armageddon is the rate of degradation of our environment. The dangers to our health and livelihoods are grave. Having travelled and studied environmental issues in more than 20 countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, I am yet to come across as high the rate of degradation as in Kashmir. We have a serious wake up call.
There are three unique set of environmental issues confronting our three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.

The most serious environmental challenge is confronted by Kashmir region. It is the smallest of the three regions, but hosts the largest and the densest human population of the state. It is also the highest recipient of the migrant population, tourists and others. Naturally, the stress on its natural environment is the highest.

Another important aspect is that of governance quality, militarization and conflict. Kashmir region has the poorest governance. The intensity of conflict here is also the gravest. It, perhaps, also has the largest military concentration.

Although Ladakh too has problems, its advantage is that it has a tiny population spread over a vast geographical area. The stress on its physical environment is relatively less. Its second advantage is its quality of governance. It has a good culture of community-driven environmental protection and ecological conservation.

Some of Jammu’s problems are similar to Kashmir. Since it is the most industrialized region in the state, some of its problems are even graver.

What is very crucial for this report is the manner it is structured. If it is structured on the pattern of the government of India’s annual State of Environment Report it would do a good job only partly. For doing an excellent job it will have to structure the report based on this state’s unique conditions. And that will not be achieved by basing the report solely on government statistics and toeing only a state-centric line.

The Government of India’s State of Environment Report, 2009, is a case in point. It has focused on issues like climate change, food security, water security, energy security and urbanization. It is OK to focus on these issues in our report as well, but we must not copy-paste its structure and approach. This report seeks to assess initiatives to monitor further degradation of environment and also suggests policy options. That is something which our SoE must aim too.

It makes complete sense to have the Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing to do the leadership job on this report. In the preparation of the Government of India’s State of Environment Report 2009– Development Alternatives – a non government agency, acted an equal partner. That has brought in intense value to that report. Our report must also have some ideas from outside the government system. That will make it more credible.

The global Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which categorizes all countries based on their environmental performance, will be a good model also to keep in view for our report. EPI looks at things in two broad categories – environmental health and ecosystem vitality. Both are very critical to our state, and go beyond statistical indicators.

When it comes to environmental health, our SoE should not only look at the extent of pollution to our water bodies, it must look at the issues of access to sanitation and safe drinking water too. If we try to develop indices for our water quality, water stress, water scarcity, etc. we will be able to evaluate our deterioration or improvement on an annual basis. That will be important for course correction.

Similarly, when it comes to outdoor air pollution, an evaluation of the sources and impact of urban particulates is a must. Our report should highlight the policy corrections needed in the development of our roads, etc. We need to keep our local ozone also in view.

On other issues of eco system vitality we need to go beyond statistics as well. We not only need to understand the extent of sulfur dioxide emissions, we need to know their sources as well.

When it comes to agriculture, there are too many imperatives which we haven’t given too much of attention. For instance, we need to analyse the impact of growing stock, irrigation stress, pesticide use and excess-fertilizer use. We also need to talk about pesticide and chemical fertilizer regulation. Forest cover change and critical habitat protection need our focus too.

On climate change we cannot afford to remain indifferent and see it as a global problem. This report must seek to look into the issue of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, carbon dioxide emissions per electricity unit generation and industrial greenhouse gas emission intensity in all of our regions.

SoE for J&K has a big burden of expectations. The problem is that the way we all live and demolish our environment makes one feel as if there is no tomorrow for us. This report must seek to rekindle hopes for a tomorrow. A better tomorrow.