Declare Amarnath yatra area eco-sensitive zone: civil society

Srinagar: Expressing concern over the Supreme Court direction for construction of a road to the Amarnath cave shrine, the civil society in Kashmir has appealed the Centre to declare the yatra area in the Himalayas as an eco-sensitive zone on the Gaumukh-Uttarakashi pattern.

"We note with deep appreciation the government of India`s in-principle nod for declaring the 135-km stretch of the Ganga between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone in November, 2010. We demand that the same principles be applied for the conservation of the area surrounding the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir," civil society groups said in a statement here.

The groups said no human activity that will irreversibly damage the fragile ecology of the place be undertaken around the Amarnath yatra area.
"Application of uniform principles of conservation and protection are not only necessitated by the imperatives of the National Environment Policy and the National Forest Policy but also emphasised by the uniform standards of judicial principles," they said.

The civil society groups expressed serious concern over the recent Supreme Court directions to Kashmir government for undertaking construction of roads and other infrastructure in the environmentally-fragile Himalayan habitat around the Amarnath cave shrine in the Kashmir Valley.

The groups passed a resolution at a recent meeting which called for ensuring good health and well-being of the intending pilgrims. "We believe that the yatra must be conducted in accordance with the National Environment Policy, the State Forest Policy and also the Nitish Sengupta Committee recommendations," the statement said.

As a vast population of Kashmir depends on the drinking water originating from the glaciers around Amarnath, the statement said, any increased human activity through large scale construction works will greatly increase pollution, pose serious challenges to public health and result in irreversible damage to the flora and fauna of the area – critical to tourism and agriculture of the region.

"It must be noted that the area through which the current tracks lead to the Amarnath cave in the Sonamarg area fall under the Thajiwas Wildlife Sanctuary, and as such any construction activity will be in contravention of the established laws," it added.

The civil society called for applying the principles of conservation for environment and administrative facilitation to the Amarnath yatra as was done in case of the pilgrimage to Gangotri and the larger conservation plans for Ganga river.

They also called upon the Central Empowered Committee on Forests and Environment and the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Environment to initiate steps that the national environment and forest policies be implemented and the plans of large scale construction around the Amarnath cave shrine be subjected to legal scrutiny in the light of the established laws and policies.