Syed Nassarullah Shah is an environmental activist and vice president of an NGO, Environment Policy Group. The group claims to create public awareness about environmental issues in the Valley and get the government to act on them. Aasif Sultan caught up with him at his office and spoke to him on several environment-related issues.
Q Give us a brief sense of the current condition of the environment in Kashmir.
Our environment is fast degrading. The government is not doing its job as it should. So much so that the government is not even interested in facelifting. But the big concern is that the government has no vibrant policy to check environmental degradation. There are no awareness programmes carried out by the government departments that will educate the masses about waste management.
Stale food and baby diapers and other non-bio-degradable material are disposed of in the same garbage bin. We must educate the people to segregate different wastes.
Q What are the most pressing issues that need immediate attention?
Water bodies. They are at the point of extinction and immediate steps must be taken to save them. Then we need to have a proper mechanism to dispose of hospital waste, which is altogether of different composition as generated from homes. If this goes unchecked, then our environment is doomed.
Q Is the current approach of the government and its many departments in any way helpful in tackling environmental degradation?
The government lacks the will to check environmental degradation in the Valley. Funds are there, but when you have no will to check the degradation, what will funds do?
Q At the policy level where do you think things are wrong?
The biggest issue is that non-technical people are holding key positions. Misfit people are being posted at top positions. What can an IAS or KAS officer do to prevent degradation of Dal lake? We need a technocrat who has knowledge of how to protect a waterbody. The glaring example of this phenomenon is the recent appointment of a doctor as Commissioner SMC. What reform can he bring? He can’t prove a good administrator since he has no basic knowledge of sanitation and waste disposal.
Q What changes would you then suggest?
Technical hands who have knowledge about a particular field must be promoted in their related field. Consider an IAS officer as Principal Medical College. Will the system run that way?
Q Do we have adequate laws to arrest environmental debasement of our air, water and land?
We have the Indian Environment Act which is applicable here. This law has a great scope to check environmental degradation only if applied. Sufficient laws are there but the problem is lack of application.
Q How much are the authorities responsible for the present condition of our environment?
The blame falls squarely on them. The whole governance has failed and the system is defunct.
Q And how much to blame the common people?
They have remained insensitive towards their environment and therefore they too are to be blamed. In a corrupt system, they can still work to protect the environment. Like they can segregate the waste at home for its easy disposal.
Q NGOs like yours talk a lot but do little on the ground. Your take on it?
We can’t say this. NGOs at the end of the day are under the control of the government. Our organisation doesn’t take public donations. We raise alarm about issues and rest is up to the government to take steps in that regard. But we too have our own ambit within which we play our part.
Q How much is Kashmir’s volatile political condition and its accompanying uncertainty responsible for the environmental debasement here?
It is natural when a house is in turmoil, how can things be right there. If this conflict ends, we will be free to address these issues. In a conflict zone, there are pulls and pushes from all directions. And we have to find ways and means to get the maximum out of minimum.
Q Is lack of public awareness often overplayed to shield criticism of incompetent government departments, powerful and corrupt officials, non-performing civic bodies and others who are actually supposed to safeguard environment?
It is part of awareness to put it on record that the officials sitting in high offices have no right to sit there. They have destroyed our economy and ecology. The government of India provides crores of rupees for environment protection but all the money goes into the pockets of high officials. That is why this is the number one state in corruption.