Valley is losing both the beauty and the history with the disappearance of karewas
Kashmir valley, as we know, lies between The Great Himalayas and Pir Panjal ranges. Millions of years ago, when the Pir Panjal range was uplifted by tectonic activity, the water of rivers flowing through that area was impounded. Thus, a very large lake was created that covered the whole Kashmir valley. Sediments kept coming in through rivers and kept on depositing in that lake, thus resulting in the formation of a lacustrine plain. Time passed and slowly the water drained away leaving behind deposits viz. unconsolidated gravel and mud. These deposits are what is known as Karewas or 'Vudr' in the local language.
The Karewa deposits in Kashmir valley have been conventionally divided into two stages, lower and upper, representing argillaceous and arenaceous facies respectively. The upper Karewas are less fossiliferous than the lower Karewas. The entire belt touching the foothills of the Pir Panjal represents the lower Karewas, which has been exposed to the rivers starting from the south such as Veshav, Rembiara, Romushu, Dodhganga, Shaliganga, Boknag nar and Ningli. The late Cenozoic deposits exposed in the Kashmir valley assume special significance as they are extensively fluvioglacial, fluvial, lacustrine and eolian in origin.
Karewa sediments are treasures of many human civilizations and habitations. The Stone Age man has survived the harshest of the Pleistocene glaciations through these Karewas. Apart from the Stone Age man, the remains of Buddhist Stupas on the Karewas show Buddhist influence of the time. The Brahman rulers have also left their footprints on these sediments, which can be seen near Pattan, Awantipora and Mattan. Rishis and Sufi saints are not far behind when it comes to occupying the highest reaches of the Karewas.
Most of the cultivated fields in the Kashmir Valley are situated on the Karewa sediments.In fact, the agriculture of the valley dominantly survives and sustains on Karewa soils. The Karewa deposits are composed of sand, silt, clay, shale, mud, lignite, gravel and therefore, it is extremely important for agricultural and horticultural practices in the valley. The world famous saffron, apples, almonds, apricots are the best examples of crops grown on karewas in Kashmir. The cutting and extraction of soil from these karewas and filling the agricultural lands for development purposes have not only shrinked the cultivable land but also lead to land degradation.
According to state Animal Husbandry department, there is a drastic decline in the livestock in Pattan and Budgam regions and the decline in population is linked to the destruction of the grass fields that these plateaus housed. Livestock census of Kashmir in 2012 puts the number of cattle at 141975 and buffalo, sheep and goat collectively at 210913 for district Budgam while the respective figures for district Baramulla were 179356 and 237838 respectively. According to the officials in the department involved in the ongoing Livestock census 2018, the plateaus were the sources of employment in the state and were largely contributing to state GDP. According to an estimate, the annual turnover from the orchids on these Karewas in Pattan alone was more than 200 crores. The production of apple/almonds/pear peaches and nuts around these excavation sites has.
Soil extraction has adverse ecological impacts. These highlands act as shock-absorbers and create a balance on earth. When there is already northward movement of the Indian plate and the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a highly seismic zone, and flattening of these plateaus will make these areas more susceptible to earthquake. It show how much our leaders and administrators are naive and less educated on such issues that are primarily linked to our existence. The climatic and tectonic record during the last 1.6 million years is well preserved in the sediments of the Karewas of Kashmir valley. The Karewas preserve a valuable repository of the late Quaternary climatic changes and the landscape evolution of the Karewa Basin of Kashmir.
Karewas are very much beautiful and It attracts people during the blossom period as the white/pink flowering of almonds, apples, pear and peaches are very much attractive and it adds beauty to the whole area. So, destroying the Karewas means destroying the aesthetic value of these plateaus. Spring seepages from within the Karewas and the sub-surface flow of the Jhelum River are sources of discharge of groundwater. They played an important role in the weather of the area and were largely responsible for maintaining water-table, precipitation and acts as carbon sinks.
The Karewa soils of Kashmir have enormous agricultural potential. Commercial and cash crops like saffron, almond, apples, walnut, peaches, pears, cherry, plum, etc., with orchards and saffron beds. Moreover, some leguminous and fodder crops are also grown in Karewa. The Pampore Karewa is famous all over the world for Saffron cultivation. There can be orchards in Karewas which do not need too much moisture as water retention capacity of the Karewas soils are high and they retain moisture for longer periods which are good for crops even in drought conditions.
These places also act as natural pastures for cattle, goats and sheep’s, and providing a source livelihood to the people. These Karewas are a home to several plant species, which in turn acts as a habitat for many bird species.
The Karewas are home to unique biodiversity. The famous almond/Saffron orchids are best grown in the soils of Karewas. Their destruction results in the loss of such a unique biodiversity of Kashmir. Karewas destruction causes instant harm to habitats and kills many species in the process. With the destruction of theses table lands the chirping of birds in the morning were replaced by the roaring of vehicles. These hills were made of fragile alluvial soil, and unscientific cutting of soil might have disastrous impacts on the environment.
These plateaus have become prone to soil erosion and reduction in the green cover. Reducing green cover means many plant species become vulnerable to extinction, and it leads to the destruction of habitat of many birds and animals. Destroying green cover means more soil erosion and depleting soil fertility. Which becomes a big problem for poor farmers whose livelihood is totally dependent on such soils?
However, people seem to be destroying these table lands at the cost of development and petty commerce, ignoring the geological and aesthetic significance of these formations even though alternative construction and building material is available in vast amounts. The rich fertile soil is being used for landfill purposes sites which is not only wastage of resource, but a threat taking into account the high seismic zone our Valley falls into. The rush of trucks and tractors into these areas for soil excavation results in air pollution and noise pollution to the local population. The dust blocks the stomata of the leaves of apple/Almond and Peach trees which then causes the trees to dry up. The dust also causes serious health problems to the local people.
The negligence of the concerned authorities will lead to the destruction of these Karewas in Kashmir that are also called the heritages of Kashmir. Hundreds of examples are found around the Budgam, Pampore Baramulla and Pattan area where agricultural lands are filled with the soils of Karewas. Government promises to take stringent steps against people involved in the illegal cutting of soil and encroachments of karewas in the state.
The rampant anthropogenic erosion for a couple of years has reduced these plateau lands into ugly ravines. Thus, we need to preserve this geological treasure and legacy for the generations to come.
As time has passed, karewas in Kashmir have lost their pristine history and beauty due to unplanned development and rampant excavation of soil for filling and construction purposes. Government has to give special attention for preventing the destruction of these special treasures of Kashmir; else the results will be deleterious in the future.
Karewas have millions of years of history buried in them and scientists are yet to decipher them completely. Their study will give new insights into palaeontology and ancient civilization that thrived in Kashmir. If they were destroyed at the same pace we will lose the ancient history forever.
Karewas are our treasure and we owe responsibility of their safe keeping for our future generation. Even when the government was hell-bent in mining the karewa plateaus it should have extracted the soil in an ecologically friendly way. It must have developed terraces so that agricultural and scenic value would have been protected and development needs could also have been met. The destruction of such a resource that even generations cannot rebuild it is unthinkable. We can plant trees and a forest can be regenerated, but it is beyond human capacities to regenerate karewa plateaus. We need to preserve this treasure and legacy for future generations.