How faulty planning, unsustainable growth and swelling ‘security’ base can wreak havoc upon a simple agrarian community can be best understood from the present day plight of Gogo, now referred by the name of a former torture centre in its lap, Gogoland.
Nearly 5km from the Srinagar International Airport, Abdul Rehman Bhat is examining the water level in the harvest. Surrounded by green paddy fields, Bhat’s face gives away the distressing signs about some imminent calamity.
In a summer day of early July 2018, the incessant showers have already swelled Jhelum to an extent of triggering a flood scare around. Amid flood fears, the stinking smell of water worries Bhat, perhaps, more than multiple assaults on his community for being a gateway to the air route to the valley.
“We always resisted the external factors,” says Bhat, pointing towards the stinking water stream. “But now, sadly, our own created mess is dooming us.”
Before one could even dismiss him as an alarmist, the 60-something man sporting a snow-white beard maps the picture of Gogo’s ‘lost landscape’.
“One could see the open green paddy fields running from Humhama square to Wanibal Rawalpora. But in the last one decade, everything has been vanishing quickly,” says Bhat, walking and pointing towards both directions, where construction of new posh colonies is going on.
At certain point in conversation, Bhat stops to greet a man in his late 70s and informs him that the situation in his paddy fields is not fine.
The man is Ghulam Ahmad Lone, whose father was killed along with many others in Gogo, seven decades ago.
“This stationary water stinks like anything and has already damaged roots of our harvest,” Bhat says, as both men move on their own ways.
The distress is gripping the community which has braved many storms for falling close to the airstrip. The area went up in flames in 1947 when the first Kashmir War broke out. In the beginning of that War, Lone lost his father.
“Somewhat similar scenario was repeated here in 1965 and 1971,” Lone says, turning thoughtful over the turbulent past. “We lost much of our lands to the swelling security establishment in the area.” By 1990s, the area came to house the notorious torture centre called Gogoland, the irregular highland military camp giving a garrison facelift to this hamlet.
“Even as the torture cries would haunt most of us during the nineties, we stood our ground,” Lone says, talking about the resilience shown by the natives, time to time. “But now, the messed up nature, land greed and faulty planning is forcing us out.”
Lone says that the earth filling of wetlands and the construction of the railway track has led to the vanishing of paddy fields of Gogo land.
“The water needed for the harvest used to flow towards Rawalpora and Humhama, before getting absorbed in the Nambal wetland.”
But the earth filling of Nambal from one side and the railway track on the other side has blocked the water flow.
“Now, our paddy fields have become the resting place for water, causing damage to the crops,” he rues, explaining how water that gives life to the harvest is becoming toxic for the fields, and the people.
As his neighbor Mohammad Younis shows up, they take turns to paint the grim situation around. Both the men have been farming together in these paddy fields since decades now.
“The stream is full of sewage and this is what we are directing towards our fields,” says Younis, as Lone vacantly stares at the fields. “Encroachment on the banks of water sources and opening of sewage pipes in these water sources are equally responsible for our ordeal.”
The main source of water for these lands is the stream coming from Bachura Budgam and a small stream from Kralpora and Wanibal.
“We can clean the stream in our area and keep it encroachment free, but what about the areas from where they are flowing? All this water full of sewage gets a resting place in our paddy fields, and thereby killing us and our hard work at the same time.”
Pointing towards the new construction on the other side of his land, Younis says, “Isn’t this the only option we’re left with!”
Back in his home, Abdul Rehman Bhat explains why the earth filling of these paddy fields is happening, that too, when it has been banned by the High Court.
“The higher grounds are already occupied by the armed forces, one part in 1965 and the other during the 90s,” says Bhat. “It’s forcing the locals to earth fill the lower part to reside there, in the wetlands.”
Today as Gogo is blocked by the railway track, earth-filled wetland, emerging posh colonies, military base and the water streams turned dumping grounds, the local farmers are mulling to give up their lands.
Perhaps, Gogo’s crisis situation merits a serious thought of how growing human interference and faulty planning is ravaging Kashmir’s environment. More than anything, especially in the case of Gogo, such unattended mess only belittles the celebrated resilience.