Most of the cement factories and their mines in Kashmir are operating close to Dachigam national wildlife sanctuary without proper no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the concerned authorities.
Information accessed by the DH though RTI reveals that the existing cement plants in Khonmoh and Khrew areas of Srinagar and Pulwama districts respectively have not got mandatory NOCs from the Wildlife department even though these factories have been operating for more than a decade now.
The RTI reply under No WLWC/ESTT/18-19/1142-43 provided by Wildlife Warden Central Kashmir reveals that JK Cement, TCI Cement, Khyber Cement, and Green Land Cement factories have not even bothered to apply for the mandatory NOC. Some of the other factories have applied for the NOC which have not been granted to them o-far. The reasons for the same have not been provided in the RTI reply.
Most of these cement plants are also running within less than five kilometres distance from the outer boundary of Dachigam Sanctuary. However, while providing the data regarding the distance from the outer boundary of the Sanctuary, the department has provided contradictory figures.
On 28-07-2018, Deputy Conservator of Forests (WL), Central Division Srinagar under letter No: WLWC/Estt/18-19/935-36 mentions that the distance of Khyber Cements, TCI Cements, Saifco Cements, Dawar Cement, HK Cement and Cemtac Cements from outer boundary of the Sanctuary is 2.18, 3.38, 2.25, 3.62, 3.96 and 4.92 kms respectively.
However, in another reply, Wildlife Warden Central Kashmir under No WLWC/ESTT/18-19/1142-43 mentions that the distance of Khyber Cements, TCI Cements, Saifco Cements, Dawar Cement, HK Cement and Cemtac Cements from the outer boundary of the Sanctuary is 2.50, 6.0, 3.0, 6.0, 5.0 and 6.02 kms respectively.
A senior Wildlife official told DH that ‘politician-bureaucrat-cement mafia nexus’ was so strong in Kashmir over the years they flouted norms with impunity.
“As there is no baron land which can be utilized for extraction of raw material for the cement production, forest and wildlife land is being vandalized every year in the area. Forests are being cleared and patches carved out for obtaining mining leases from the concerned authorities,” he said.
To regulate the existing cement plants union Ministry of Environment and Forests (Mo&EF) had issued a notification (No SQ1533 dated 14-09-2006) with subsequent amendments issued from time-to-time. Under the notification, the existing, as well as new cement plants, had to undergo various processes to be proposed by expert members of ministry in Delhi before establishment of cement plants and permission for mining activity.
However, while the existing plants are yet to complete the formalities, the Wildlife Department is considering the clearance of fresh plants and mining activity in the area.
Sources told DH that on October 18, just days ahead when J&K formally became a union territory, 13th meeting of standing committee of wildlife board (SCWLB) was convened “in which an advisor to then-governor influenced the chairman of the SCWLB (another advisor) and managed the deliberation of cases pertaining to cement industry which were considered.”
“In addition to this, cases already deliberated in previous SCWLB meetings were also considered without rectifying the observations and fulfilling the conditions which were suggested by the expert members of the committee,” they revealed.