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World-famous Ski destination Gulmarg turning into Garbage Cesspool

The rapid growth in tourism has brought about challenges, particularly in waste management of Gulmarg, a world-famous hill station.

By Jahangir Sofi
New Update
Gulmarg Garbage in Eco sensitive forest areas

Ground Report’s exclusive Investigative Report Part: One

As mounds of trash pile up the region's ecology goes under threat, the pressing question arises: Who owns SWM (Solid Waste Management)?

Gulmarg, a world-famous hill station, attracts visitors from around the world throughout all seasons. This picturesque place, especially during winter, captivates international visitors who come to enjoy and showcase their ski skills on its breathtaking alpine slopes. However, the rapid growth in tourism has brought about challenges, particularly in waste management.

"In a series of investigative reports, we at Ground Report strive to illuminate our readers on why a particular place has recently garnered attention, not for its beauty, but rather for its waste management efforts implemented by the local authorities."

Ground Report is conducting a series of investigative reports on environmental reporting, aimed at exposing deficiencies in a world-renowned tourist destination's waste management approach. These reports feature perspectives from experts and whistleblowers, highlighting concerns about the destination's lack of scientific rigor and inadequate waste management practices.

Several government departments stationed at the tourist destination, Gulmarg, are currently engaged in a dispute, with each department questioning the other's responsibility regarding the collection, handling, management, and processing of solid waste.

The resentment among the local tourism stakeholders is growing due to their claim that the waste management in the area is being poorly handled. They allege that the only solid waste management (SWM) plant in the area frequently remains nonfunctional, and also point out its inadequate processing capabilities.

"In light of numerous unverified reports regarding the dumping of garbage and litter in the Gulmarg forests, a senior official has clarified that the responsibility for solid waste collection and management in Gulmarg does not lie with any designated authorities, but rather relies on volunteers. This investigative report aims to uncover the truth about the solid waste situation in Gulmarg and shed light on the party responsible for its management."

gulmarg waste management in question
Gulmarg's beautiful landscape spoiled by trash garbage, causing environmental worries. Photo Credit: Jahangir Sofi/Ground Report

The waste management case at Gulmarg has long been a topic of discussion, currently being reviewed by the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court. Recently, several pictures have emerged relating to waste management at this popular tourist destination, once again bringing it into the spotlight.

Advocate Nadeem Qadri, an Environmental Lawyer and Amicus Curiae appointed by the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court for Environment, Forest, and Wildlife-related Public Interest Litigations (PILs), recently expressed concern in a tweet on July 11th about the alarming "environmental mismanagement" happening in Gulmarg. Qadri pointed out that the Gulmarg Development Authority has not fulfilled its responsibilities and is in violation of the court's orders, potentially facing criminal contempt charges.

“Gulmarg is facing serious environmental mismanagement and no one seems interested to address the core Environmental Concerns, the Gulmarg Development Authority has failed in their duties and is in criminal contempt of the Hon'ble High Orders, is anyone listening”, he tweeted.

Increase In Littering & Decline In Natural Beauty

Due to the influx of tourists from various regions in India seeking respite from the scorching heat and embracing the refreshing mountain breeze, Gulmarg experiences a remarkable surge in its visitor count. Unfortunately, this surge has resulted in an alarming increase in littering, causing a detrimental impact on the station's pristine natural beauty.

gulmarg waste management in question
Plastic pollution plagues Gulmarg's forest area, with heaps of plastic bags, wrappers, and containers harming the environment. Photo Credit: Jahangir Sofi/Ground Report

According to tourism officials in Kashmir, Gulmarg has, thus far in the ongoing year until June, received a total of 806,142 visitors. Out of this number, 661,758 are from the domestic circuit, 139,497 are from the local circuit, and 4,887 are foreign visitors.

However, experts argue that the surge in visitors is causing a detrimental impact on the area's beauty by triggering a rise in littering and a decline in its overall aesthetics. They emphasize that this not only compromises the natural allure but also poses a grave threat to the local flora and fauna.

The Negative Impacts of Over-tourism

Notably in 2016, a study was conducted in Gulmarg meadow with an aim to assess visitor impacts and management of this famous tourist resort. During the study, a monitoring programme was conducted in the area and questionnaires were distributed among tourists. It was observed that the meadow is receiving negative impacts from "over" tourism and tourists are not satisfied with the management.

According to the study, Gulmarg possesses a wealth of diverse tourist offerings, positioning it as a highly captivating destination for both leisure and sports tourism within the entire Kashmir Himalayan region.

Reports Of Garbage Dumping In Forests

On 5 June 2023, Greater Kashmir, a daily publication in the valley carried out photographs that depicted a sorry state of affairs with solid waste — mostly plastic bags, wrappers, and plastic containers — dumped openly in the forest area.

Authorities Deny

However, Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA), refuted the allegations and maintained that sanitation is “meticulously” maintained in Gulmarg.

According to a statement GDA said, “Apropos various photographs purportedly related to the waste management at Gulmarg being circulated in social media, it is to clarify that nowhere in Gulmarg meadows or the areas frequented by tourists, one can find any garbage.”

The GDA statement further stated: “The Gulmarg Development Authority is committed to assisting and augmenting the Municipal committee Gulmarg which is responsible for overall waste management of the destination.

Brewing Resentment among locals

Earlier this year in February, local shopkeepers in the Gulmarg area voiced their concerns regarding the handling of garbage, alleging that the authorities "lack proper solid waste management."

Stating that if there is a ban on the use of single-use plastic and polythene, shopkeepers in the area said that why there was no enforcement alleging that the concerned agencies are doing “least” to enforce the ban.

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