The picturesque Pangong Lake in the eastern part of Ladakh, which has been drawing the attention of thousands of tourists every year, mostly domestic, mainly after the release of Bollywood blockbuster film ‘3 Idiots’, is also not without controversies as tourist camps established and constructions took place over the last one decade are all said to be illegal and the Wildlife Department has issued notices to the restaurants and camp runners for immediate removal of establishments or else department of “wildlife protection will forfeit illegal constructions and all materials so recovered shall be liable to confiscation” since the area falls under Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary.
“We have issued notice to all camps and if they fail to remove by the end of September then action will have to be initiated against them,” Wildlife Warden Leh, Pankaj Raina told State Times adding that although notices were sent months ago, the department did not initiate any action as doing so would hamper tourism in the peak tourists season. Raina added that the same notice has been sent to the army and the ITBP as well. According to sources, Wildlife Department and the administration started acting on the issue, although on papers alone, only after High Court of J &K on April 24, 2016 asked in civil writ petition No: 35/2014, MP NO 240/2014 to take effective steps to remove encroachments along water bodies / wetlands.
“As reported by concerned field staff, you have encroached Wildlife Protected Land and established camp site at Spangmik near the shore of Pangong Lake in Changthang Cold Desert Wild Life Sanctuary which is a clear violation of J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act 1978 amended up to 2002. In view of the above and as per J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act 1978 amended up to 2002 under section 53-A warranted action will be initiated against you,” the notice issued in June warns for action if failed to remove establishments within a week. Interestingly few highly influential politicians of Ladakh also have their camps running illegally at Spangmik.
Resenting strongly to the notice issued by the Wildlife Department, residents of Phobrang, a village close to the lake, while referring to wildlife notice No 253-55/WLWL/ENCH-27/2017 dated June 19, 2017 and No 103/04/ WLRC/ ENCH/ 2017 dated May 19, 2017 argued that Wildlife Department itself has constructed a new building at a closest point to the lake at Lukung in the year 2016 whereas local populace have been asked to remove their camps and restaurants. “At the end of so many hustles and bustles, we, the people of Phobrang village, seem to be the victim of the mysterious laws and its application. Such laws so far seem not applicable to other regions and villages like Nubra Karakuram Sanctuary, Hemis National Park and Maan-Merak villages within the Changthang cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary itself,” Nambarder Phobrang village alleges in the response addressed to the Wildlife Warden on behalf of the villagers. It further informs that in June 1994 the area of Pangong was thrown open for tourists vide SRO No 108 and the first accommodation for tourists was constructed by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department at Spangmik village and later more such tourist accommodations were constructed which include the Alpine Huts at Spangmik inaugurated by the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
The Wildlife Warden however claims that the building built by the Wild Life Department has been built on wildlife land and the same will be used for community services by engaging self-help groups like the Looms of Ladakh whereas camps and restaurants are encroachments on wildlife land which is a clear violation of law.
It is interesting to note that there are almost 70 different camps functioning besides restaurants along Pangong Lake and this also raises questions as to why the Department of Wildlife remained a silent spectator when all constriction took place in the last one decade. It was first the Tourism Department that constricted a guesthouse at Spangmik (now run in the name of Pangong Resort) followed by the Wildlife Department’s building at Lukung which is almost at the verge of its completion.
Besides the village run home-stays, according to sources there are around 70 different camps with about 1,700 beds along Pangong Lake. Most of the camps are located at Spangmik while few are at Lukung. Reliable sources say that in view of the Wildlife Department issuing notices for the removal of camps and restaurants along Pangong Lake, LAHDC is already in the process of indentifying new places, little far from the lake, for establishment of camps and restaurants so that economy of the local residents is not affected.
According to some observers, restaurants run by locals at Pangong also keep the area clean as tourists can avoid packed food items having high potential of producing garbage and secondly locals claim that they have pits for garbage and also proper septic tanks. While visits by wildlife officials seem rare as many tourists could easily drive the cars and bikes into the lake which has often been observed and no action has yet been taken against anyone. Expressing his helplessness to insensitive attitude of some tourists, the Wildlife Warden Leh says that the department is planning to dig a ditch along the lake so that cars and bikes cannot be driven upto the lake.
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