Is mining good for Kashmir’s economy or is it killing our rivers?

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There are 261 mineral blocks in the ten districts of Kashmir in which a significant number are situated along the banks of the river Jhelum. The mineral blocks in Kashmir contain sand deposits and various other minerals. While mining provides many natural minerals and affects the ecology, it also plays a role in the development of the economy in Kashmir. We speak to two academics at the Kashmir University’s Department of Economics to know their views about the impact of mining on the economy and rivers in Kashmir.

Dr. Javaid Iqbal Khan, Senior Assistant Professor, Kashmir University

Kashmir has a long history of frequent flooding. The only outlet for draining the water out is a single narrow gorge in Baramulla. Of the major causes of frequent flooding apart from the topography and constrained outlet is the perpetual policy neglect of managing the water drainage systems and creating sustainable alternate drainage networks. No viable alternative drainage system could evolve over the last century. The standalone long-term “lifesaving” measure untaken on this account is/was the creation of a 41.70 km long flood spill channel that would take off with 17,500 cusecs of discharge from the river upstream of the city and rejoin the river after bypassing Srinagar in 1903 by the “colonial” British. It is interesting to note that the standard response of dredging and constructing embankments has become so mainstream an idea that its perils have gone unnoticed. Of late institutionalized commercialization of mining sand has generated sharp criticism. In Srinagar alone, in the last four years, 76,162 metric tons of sand have been extracted from the Jhelum. With rapid Urbanization, particularly owing to economic growth leading to an increase in per capita income and hence the purchasing power, the demand for sand is only increasing. Make no mistakes about it. Mining of sand is a lucrative economic activity but there is a social cost. The latter overrides the former. Private monetary benefits generated by large scale mining of sand cause substantial negative externalities on the socio-economic, ecological and biodiversity front. The Jammu & Kashmir Expert Appraisal Committee denied environmental clearance to mining in Jhelum and made a disturbing revelation: “all the mining blocks are located in the center of flowing water channel of river Jhelum and the cases are sheer in-stream commercial mining proposals…the department of geology and mining of the government of Jammu and Kashmir has “unscientifically identified and e-auctioned mining blocks in River Jhelum without any due diligence.” The discharge capacity of Jhelum is around 30,000 cusecs but during the 2014 flood, around 1.30,000 cusecs. Will it prevent floods or will it invite a catastrophe?

Dr. Effat Yasmin, Head of Department, Kashmir University

The extraction of minerals is really good for the economy. It generates employment, your educated youth will get involved in the mining sector, if you are doing mining in a particular area, the local youth of the same area will get employment as the infrastructure gets developed there. We cannot outrightly reject mining on the basis that it is affecting our rivers or our ecology because it has its own positive effects on the economy too. We only need to do proper research to find how it can be done in a controlled and harmless way. There are natural, God given resources and we need to extract them. We need to take advantage of them, we can’t stop it completely. Saying that it is not good for ecology without exploring the process completely is not good for the economy. My point is that these are the rich  sources of income and wealth of our economy. It provides employment of different kinds, researchers, engineers, contractors,  labor force, transporters, exporters, wholesalers, retailers and the whole chain till it reaches the ultimate consumer. If you stop mining on the pretext that it will kill rivers without any research based evidence that will not only keep resources untapped but also cut jobs of both skilled and unskilled labor, thereby adding to unemployment. Therefore to boost the economy unexplored areas need to be explored, regulated, and authorized. In economics, we call them garnered but hidden fruits of nature that have been made for the welfare of humankind but are unexplored. Mining boosts the economy but it should happen by following all policies and regulations. A clear cut policy on the basics of research regarding all kinds of extraction of natural resources is the need of the hour. There is every possibility of vested interest, corruption, and political intervention in the absence of any policy document. The focus should be on regulating the process. They should keep a check on illegal mining. For that, everybody as a responsible citizen needs to wake up and maintain the order and act as a watchdog.

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