The upcoming G20 meeting for the tourism working group presents a unique opportunity for nations to collaborate and discuss the development of sustainable tourism. While the environment is a major agenda item for the G20 in 2023, it is ironic that unrestricted religious tourism in Kashmir is causing significant damage to the local environment, as highlighted by experts. This essay will shed light on the concerning issue of environmental genocide in Kashmir, particularly focusing on the destructive impact of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage on the Kolahai glacier and the implications for the livelihoods of the Kashmiri population.
The Warning Ignored:
As early as 1996, Indian environmentalists had cautioned the government about the need to restrict the number of tourists participating in the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage. They warned that the increasing influx of pilgrims would have a detrimental effect on the Kolahai glacier, which serves as the primary water source for several rivers in the region. Unfortunately, despite these warnings from environmental and climate change experts, the Indian government did not take adequate measures to limit the number of pilgrims. In fact, Hindutva groups actively campaigned to increase the pilgrimage, leading to an exponential rise in participants. Consequently, the Kolahai glacier has lost 23 percent of its area over the past three decades.
The Intentional Destruction:
The destruction of the Kolahai glacier, a vital lifeline for the Kashmiri people, cannot be seen as a mere coincidence. The majority of Kashmiris rely on the Jehlum river for their agricultural needs, which provides livelihoods for approximately 70 percent of the population. The intentional neglect and disregard for the environmental impact of unrestricted religious tourism is tantamount to an environmental genocide against the people of Kashmir. By allowing the exploitation of this fragile ecosystem, the authorities are endangering the survival of the Kashmiri population, as their agricultural practices heavily depend on the availability of glacial water.
The Role of G20 Tourism Working Group:
The G20 Tourism Working Group holds a significant responsibility to address the issue of environmental genocide in Kashmir. While promoting sustainable tourism is a key objective, it is essential to ensure that tourism activities are not hazardous to the environment and the local communities. The destruction of glaciers and the resultant environmental damage in Kashmir must be a crucial topic of discussion during the G20 meeting. It is imperative to explore strategies and policies that prioritize the protection of the environment, the preservation of natural resources, and the sustainable development of tourism in the region.
The environmental genocide unfolding in Kashmir due to unrestricted religious tourism demands immediate attention from the G20 Tourism Working Group. The destructive impact of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage on the Kolahai glacier, the lifeline of the Kashmiri people, cannot be ignored. It is the responsibility of the G20 member nations to discuss and advocate for sustainable tourism practices that prioritize the preservation of the environment and the well-being of local communities. By addressing the environmental genocide in Kashmir, the G20 can play a pivotal role in promoting responsible tourism and ensuring a sustainable future for all.
Tazeen Hassan, Campaign Manager.