How illegal pursuit of riverbed material is threatening the habitat of Kashmir’s trout fish

In complete violation of the JK Fisheries Act, illegal extraction of sand and boulders from various trout streams of Bandipora, and adjoining areas, has threatened the already endangered habitat of the famed fish. Even as official action has tried to strike some balance, the fact that mining is happening in the first place has raised questions over governance in Kashmir.

The mean machines might’ve come to a grinding halt in the twin Bandipora villages of Arin and Papchan, but people are still wondering about the sudden intrusion of JCBs into the trout fish’s habitat.

The localised dissent couldn’t become a war cry, as the violators involved in this illegal mining of sand and boulders are power-yielding individuals, allegedly carrying “an official stamp”.

The locals call it an “organised cartel at play”—who flout the High Court ban on extraction of materials in Trout Reserved Rivers.

To the chagrin of the villagers of Arin and Papchan, tippers and trucks have already ferried sizeable extracted sand and boulders from the riverbed.

“It was a mindless thing to approve,” fumed Lateef Ahmad, a gaunt-faced local of Arin. “It’s a known fact that sand and boulder mining poses a great danger to the trout fish that have been categorised as endangered.”

Lateef’s outburst has a backing from a researcher.

In the recent past, Feroz Ahmed Bhat, Senior Assistant Professor at Faculty of Fisheries (SKUAST) came out with his acclaimed report on the trout fish and its habitat.

“In most water bodies of the Kashmir Valley, the fish catch per unit effort has decreased over the years,” Bhat’s fact-finding has revealed. “The degradation in the habitat of these fish mostly due to lifting of sand and boulders from these reserved riverbeds has affected their population over the years.”

At Arin, Lateef now fears for the trout fish of Bandipora.

Their habitat, he says, might go the south Kashmir-based fresh water body way: dry and dead, due to extensive riverbed mining.

FPK Photo/Zaid bin Shabir.

“Tippers loaded with sand and boulders are making rounds of the place,” Lateef said. “Those involved in these illegal practices have ungodly ties that make it difficult for the authorities to stop this illegal extraction. Otherwise how is it possible to carry out such illegal activities in broad daylight?”

The stone-crushers located in the area use these boulders for free, as they keep greasing the hands of the officials, said Mushtaq, a villager in Papchan.

“Almost every week these illegal trucks and JCBs—used for illegally extracting boulders—are seized, but they get released by submitting an affidavit of ‘not repeating the act again’ in front of the district administration,” he said.

Some influential contractors, the locals said, work arm-in-arm with the powerful to ransack the trout reserved streams of Bandipora.

“If the illegal extraction continues like this, the famous Kashmiri fish will soon vanish from the valley, as the extraction of sand and boulders from these trout filled rivers causes craters that affect their breeding,” Mushtaq said.

The contracting firm by the name of M/S Kasana Brothers was given permission by the Deputy Commissioner to extract material from Arin Nallah towards the embankments, said Riyaz Ahmed Sofi, Assistant Director Fisheries Bandipora.

“But as the contractor didn’t follow the orders, his work was barred and machines were also seized,” Sofi said.

FPK Photo/Zaid bin Shabir

The contractor was only given permission to extract material from a dry land near Papchan Bridge, said Deputy Commissioner Bandipora, Shahbaz Ahmed Mirza.

“But as soon as we were informed that there was a violation of the permission, we rushed to the spot where the boulders were illegally extracted,” Mirza told Free Press Kashmir. “One JCB was seized on the spot but the people involved in extracting ran away from the location. The work has also been stopped.”

Mirza vowed strict action against the trout-habitat violators.

“They [violators] can face an FIR,” says Nazir Ahmed, Inspector, Fisheries Department Bandipora. “A case is filed and the District Magistrate decides the type of penalty to be imposed on the violator of law.”

Post-event action apart, the question which everyone asks in Arin and Papchan is how these violators manage to toy with nature so easily.

Perhaps, in the current climate of rising crusade against corruption in the valley, one needs to check that commercial interests shouldn’t come at the cost of nature which is already braving a multi-front assault.


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