‘Demos to continue till demands fulfilled’
Today’s protest was start of a series of protests that the residents have vowed to carry out in future as well against the non-availability of basic amenities like better roads, uninterrupted power supply, safe drinking water and job avenues for unemployed youth. “The presence of these factories has adversely affected our health, vegetation and saffron fields,” Abdul Rahman, a resident told Greater Kashmir adding, “Not only have we developed respiratory problems, our livelihood too has been badly affected.” The inhabitants include a sizeable number of saffron cultivators having their fields spread around cement factories. “But we are witnessing unprecedented decrease in production since the plants came up in Khrew and Khanmoh,” said Riyaz Bhat, a farmer. “We have knocked many doors but still we remain unheard,” he added.
At least six cement factories are functional in the area and establishment of some more is likely, if locals were to be believed. Residents accused the government of playing with their lives. “We will die but not allow a single factory to come up henceforth,” the visibly agitated residents said. They are protesting against non-availability of basic amenities too. In its 4-page charter of demands, the Auqaf Islamia, supported by Coordination Committee Khrew, Zaffron Truck Union Khrew has demanded better roads, uninterrupted power supply, adequate transport service and safe drinking water.
“Our water resources have fallen victim to pollution from illegal stone mining and cement factories,” said Aadil Bhat, Coordinator Civil Society Khrew, adding “The cement plants should be subjected to stringent pollution tests and allowed to operate after adhering to the prescribed regulations with reference to public health and the world wide health guidelines of World Health Organization.”
Moreover, the units are very close to protected area of Dachigam National Park, a wildlife sanctuary and their operation, if not controlled, can cause an environmental disaster, the residents said.
Locals allege that when the factories started back in 1982 here they had made agreement with the locals about giving 90% jobs to the local educated youth but today only 5% is given to locals and on rest quota, people are hired from other parts of the state and even non-local.
“Last year, a team of doctors arrived here and forewarned that after 14 years, every local child will be suffering from cancer,” said Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, adding, “the team declared that presently 75% of locals are suffering from respiratory troubles.” “Protests will continue till all factories implement pollution control devices,” said Aadil Bhat.
Meanwhile, for the first time PCB officials listened to the grievances of the locals at Eid Gah in Khrew. “We are here in public meeting today and I assure you people we have not forwarded clearance cases of these factories and we are going to serve them notices shortly,” said Bilal Ahmad, Technical Officer PCB, adding “we have installed high value particle samplers (HVPRs) to check different problems and pollution level caused by factories.
Regional Director State Pollution Control Board, Muhammad Shafi Kenu said, “We have already checked the factories and found no such thing to be worried about”, adding “Our office at Rajbagh is damaged along with machinery, so we are not able to visit and check every pollution emerging point.”