Environmental pollution in Azad Kashmir
PAKISTAN-administered Jammu & Kashmir (Generally called as Azad Jammu and Kashmir),is a land of over 4.045 million people, with covered area of 13,297 KMs.
The area is blessed with natural beauty, lush green landscapes, sky kissing mountains, waterfalls and forests.
At the time of Independence from Dogra Raj, the forests comprised about 32% of the land but sadly this ratio has declined to about 16% due to ruthless de-forestation by the locals.
The State Governments failed to maintain the forests which are considered as ‘Green Gold’ of the land.
The neat and clean climatic conditions which used to be existing a decade before, seems to be in the grip of environmental pollutions at many places.
Besides ruthless de-forestation, the stone crushing machines have also been installed in the area, especially along the rivers-streams which have become life threatening hazards.
In world over, environment is given top priority and that’s why the Environmental Day is celebrated worldwide led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) every year on 5 June since 1973, but regrettably, the Azad Government seems least concerned about the importance of environment as under their nose, the environmental violations are in practice, with hardly any check and balance.
There is a dedicated state department for handling environmental matters which is known as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which is headed by a DG, a high ranking civil bureaucrat but it is yet to be determined as what stops them to take punitive action against the violators of environmental rules.
There are large number of stone crushing plants around the population, especially living nearby the rivers and perineal streams-nullahs which have made the public life miserable.
For instance, only in District Bagh, a belt of about 70KMs (From Dhulli to Arja and onward to confluence of Nullah Mahl and River Jhelum) is affected by these stone crushing machines in one way or the other, whereas, the hazards of stone crushers are manifold.
A stone crushing plant, by virtue of its nature, is categorized as a polluting source of activity.
Crushing of rocks to form spalls will generate dust emissions, noise, vibration, as well as, wastewater.
Basically, stone dust contains large percentage of silica, which is responsible for the occupational diseases such as silicosis.
In some extreme exposures to stone dust, silicosis, characterized by respiratory damage, may developed into lung cancer.
I happened to visit Arja Town (District Bagh)where I was shocked to see the impact of stone crushers on the houses in the vicinity which were found replete with dust, the leaves of trees (natural green colour) were giving pathetic look due to extreme dust, so one can imagine the plight of people; sucking the dust, blown through these stone crushing machines throughout the year, due to air pollution (Air pollution is the contamination of air due to the presence of substances in the atmosphere that are harmful to the human health and other living beings, or cause damage to the climate or to materials).
The most common diseases caused by air pollution include Ischemic Heart Disease, Stroke, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Lung Cancer and Acute Lower Respiratory Infections in children.
Particulate air pollution has been linked with strokes, which occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut-off.
It is very sad to apprise the people at the helm of affairs that it is not only the local community which is suffering from this pollution but the students and staff of educational institutions who come from various areas to acquire education as high profile institutions are located just nearby the crushing machines.
These machines are not only blowing dust but create irritating noise during study hours of the students.
Reportedly, these crushing plants were seized to work few years back on the complaint of general public but later, the owners of these plants managed to restore their business, reasons best known government department.
There is no proper waste management plan of these machines and the waste is thrown into the nullahs which have affected the livestock and aquatic life.
It is learnt that owners of the machines have made some half- hearted attempt to reduce the hazards but that is just an ‘Eye Wash’.
Having seen the government’s failure to stop the menace of pollution prevalent in the affected areas, it can be safely assumed that people involved in illegal practices are very influential and the relevant government quarters are not touching them.
Reportedly, the poor people of the affected areas have made efforts and prayed to government through various channels (including print media) for redress of their grievances but in vain.
The wisdom should prevail, government to take cognizance of the situation and appoint a dedicated task force to implement environmental laws in letter and spirit.
Similarly, the respective District Administration to strictly monitor the activities which are harmful for local community.
Government should also pass and implement the laws that for installation of crushmachines, wherein the owner has to obtain the NOC from concerned quarters prior to installing the machines with detailed plan and fulfillment of all the prerequisites.
Government of Pakistan should also carry out HSE audits before allocation of funds for environmental protection to the State Government.
—The writer, a retired Major, is based in Ghaziabad- Azad Kashmir.