INDIA PLANS TO DESTROY KASHMIRI VILLAGES – ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER IN THE MAKING
We express our deep concern on the planned Himalayan dam by India which will submerge Kashmir villages .
The Indian government says at least 52 villages, a total of 3,700 families, will likely lose homesteads to make way for the Ujh multipurpose project.
Surrounded by lush green forests and fields of mustard, wheat and maize, Dungara is a small village in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Kathua district.
Most residents of Dungara, which falls in the disputed Himalayan region’s Jammu area, are farmers who grow fruit, rice, and mulberry trees to produce silk.
We condemn this environmentally destructive project and call on the international environmental organizations to protest.
The socio-economic implication from the Indian government’s plan to construct a large multipurpose project on Ujh, a tributary of the Ravi River which in turn pours into the Indus River , will threatened the livelihood of the Kashmiri villages.
The complete submergence of Dungara will displace the villagers. It would also involve the cutting down of more than 330,000 trees.
We support the local Village Social Development and Welfare Committee, who has launched a movement against the Ujh project.
The villagers have expressed their rejection of the project.
“We are living a quite satisfied life here. We don’t want plots [of land] anywhere else,” 50-year-old Tripta Sharma told Al Jazeera, referring to the government’s proposal offering land elsewhere to compensate them.
The drastic forced displacement of Kashmiris in their original land is yet another way of imposing a change in the livelihood of Kashmiris.
The replacement for land somewhere else is not a solution. Compensation is not what the villagers want.
They have the right to keep their villages intact. Relocation will not restore the livelihood from the damage done if the project proceeds.
This is not about the eligibility to receive resettlement benefits and compensation of homestead plots and structures.
This about livelihood of generations of the villagers that have established their own ecological setting for their daily subsistence.
The promise of jobs to the local population during the construction is an illusion.
The people have choosen their way of living. Luring them to become workers in the dam construction is not an option.
Dam construction has always based its argument on “national importance, which provides geopolitical strategic advantage”. However people affected by this kind of mega projects are minimally consulted.
Anmol Ohri, an activist with non-profit Climate Front India, feels the Ujh project is also aimed at scoring a political victory in the disputed region.
Jitender Singh Badwal, a lawyer and resident of the neighbouring village of Dodwara, fears the site is not suitable for a dam.
“There is no natural water, there is no glacier, there is no natural suitable environment for the construction of the dam. But all this is being done due to political pressure,” he told Al Jazeera.
Climate and environmental experts have warned that the Ujh multipurpose project can have immense environmental costs.
The website of India’s environmental ministry says a whopping 338,317 trees are set to be felled for the project.
In February 2021 this year, two Himalayan dam projects were destroyed by a deadly flash flood triggered by a glacial burst in Uttarakhand state, killing more than 100 people and an equal number of people feared missing.
Environmental activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat told Al Jazeera “we are moving towards environmental destruction”.
The Indian government gave sweeping environmental clearance for this project.
The emphasise is not on sustainable development.
The projects of such scale in the region may pose threats to the environment.
Experts have questioned the lack of credible environmental assessment of the multipurpose projects such as this dam.
We call the Friends of the Earth International to investigate and launch a campaign to stop this destructive project.
We also urge the UN to intervene as this will have a negative impact on the political solution for the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid
Cordinator Asean People’ Advocacy for Kashmir.