Jammu: The subsidence of land in Joshimath, a Himalayan town in Uttarakhand, has raised concern among the environmental activists in Jammu that the rapid concretisation of hills near the city, especially in the Raika forest, could lead to a similar disaster here.
In Joshimath, hundreds of people were evacuated as cracks developed in many homes and the town is slowly sinking. The incident prompted climate activists in Jammu to intensify the campaign of “Save Raika Forest”.
Amid heavy downpours and cold winter weather, dozens of activists of the Climate Front Jammu on Monday held a strong protest at the Press Club in the city to protect the forest area located at Sidhra. The activists also spoke up for Ladakh, where locals have raised environmental issues and are demanging safeguards for land and jobs. The climate activists warned against the environmental exploitation of the wider Himalayan region and its sensitive ecosystem.
This solidarity was represented by a young girl who carried a postcard with the slogan, “Save Himalaya, Joshimath, Raika” and another young activist who warned, “Ladakh, Raika can’t be next Joshimath”. The protest ended peacefully.
Anmol Ohri, the founder of Climate Front Jammu and the organiser of the protest, told The Wire that the activists stand not just for Raika but also Ladakh and Joshimath. “We are raising an alarm about climate change,” he said.
He said that rapid urbanisation and rapid concretisation, without proper geological and ecological planning, will lead to situations like Joshimath in the Jammu region too. “We don’t know what the future holds for us, since the hills of Jammu city are disappearing under a concrete blanket. About 25 years ago, the high court in Janipur was constructed on forest land, which lead to the area being completely concretised. Now, another forest is being cut down for the same reasons,” Ohri said.
The activist said that there are not hints to suggest that the authorities have undertaken ecological planning, adding that they do not trust that the topography of the Raika forest has been taken into account. “This could lead to disasters that we cannot foresee now, but Joshimath is the prime example of a future without ecological planning,” he said.
Raika is a rich forest area with dense species diversity, he added. “We are resisting this government’s move [to construct buildings] for a long period and have been raising our voices and concerns for Raika, ” Ohri told The Wire.
Climate Front Jammu has opposed the administration’s move to shift the Jammu and Kashmir high court to Raika. Ohri says this move will result in the cutting down of 38,000 trees in Raika forest.
Climate Front Jammu said that with Joshimath sinking, experts have called for the declaration of the Himalayas as an eco-sensitive zone and for the regulation of big projects. Therefore, similar steps need to be taken in Jammu and other Himalayan regions.
The Bahu Conservative Reserve’s Raika forest is home to several native species that are in danger of extinction, including the Green Peafowl, which is listed in Schedule 1 of the 1972 Wildlife Act and in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. Leopards, another animal listed in Schedule 1, are also found in this reserve. A number of other species such as porcupines, wild boars, rabbits, snakes, bears, and chakor also live in the forest area.
Solidarity with Ladakh
In a press statement, Climate Front Jammu said that Ladakh is facing “huge climate risks” due to the mistreatment of its resources. “After the extensive exploitation of habitat, minerals, and biomes residing there, it is now important to consider sustainable steps for development and use. It is a popular tourist place and holds many aspects of tribal culture as well as natural resources,” it says.
The organisation noted that the people of Ladakh have been seeking constitutional safeguards provided to other tribal regions in India under the Sixth Schedule to protect their demography, jobs, and land – all of which were guaranteed by Article 370 of the constitution, which was read down by the current BJP-led Union government.
“Today we stand in solidarity with Ladakh for demanding protection under the Sixth Schedule because we need to understand that if Joshimath repeats in Ladakh or Jammu or anywhere else in the country, it will be a shame for all of us who watched and understood but didn’t do anything about it. It is a symbol of unity and resistance that we are expressing publicly, so people remember in the future that some youngsters in Jammu city and elsewhere in the country were speaking out against this self-inflicted tragedy,” Ohri told The Wire.
“We don’t want to see incidents like Joshimath in Ladakh and Raika and we will resist until everyone understands the urgency of this ongoing global crisis,” he added.
Sonum Wangchuk’s initiative inspires other activists
Ladakh-based environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk held a five-day climate fast for peaceful calls on resolving environmental issues in Ladakh. The 57-year-old’s actions have brought much attention to environmental issues in the region and other activists are taking up these issues. Wangchuk was asked to sign a bond “promising that he will not make any statements or participate in any public gatherings over recent happenings in Leh for one month.”
While talking with The Wire, Climate Front Jammu vice president Ritambra Khajuria said that young citizens of India are worried about their future.
“We don’t understand why the government is ignoring warnings about climate change. We are well aware of Joshimath and what is happening, how it is sinking and more than 20,000 people became homeless due to unsustainable development practices. Similar practices are being followed across the Himalayas. We have Raika as an example,” Khajuria told the Wire.
He said that along with Ladkah, land in Jammu and Kashmir should also be protected as the whole region is eco-sensitive.
Mubashir Naik is a freelance journalist, he tweets at @Sule_khaak.