Kashmir’s highly fertile alluvial soil deposits called ‘karewas’ are being destroyed in the name of development, much to the peril of local people
The Kashmir valley owes much of its fortune to the plateau-like landforms that remain tucked away in the folds of the surrounding mountains, particularly the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas that borders the valley on the southwest.
What are karewas?
- Known as karewa, these plateaus are 13,000-18,000 metre-thick deposits of alluvial soil and sediments like sandstone and mudstone.
- This makes them ideal for cultivation of saffron, almonds, apples and several other cash crops.
- Kashmir saffron, which received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2020 for its longer and thicker stigmas, deep-red colour, high aroma and bitter flavour, is grown on these karewas.
- The fertility of these patches is believed to be the result of their long history of formation.
- When formed during the Pleistocene period (2.6 million years to 11,700 years ago), the Pir Panjal range blocked the natural drainage in the region and formed a lake spanning 5,000 sq km (roughly three times the size of Delhi).
- Over the next few centuries, the water receded, making way for the valley and the formation of the karewas between the mountains.
- Today, the karewa sediments not only hold fossils and remnants of many human civilisations and habitations, but are also the most fertile spots in the valley.
- Despite its agricultural and archaeological importance, karewas are now being excavated to be used in construction.
- The Srinagar airport is built on the Damodar karewa in Budgam.
- Each karewa runs for several kilometres. While most of the patches are owned by individuals who use them for farming, some belong to the government; these are locally called kahcharai and are used for grazing.
- The destruction of the karewas has also led to the enormous accumulation of silt in the Jhelum river, which runs parallel to the Pir Panjal, and its 42-km-long flood spill channel that runs between Padshahi Bagh on the outskirts of Srinagar and Wular lake in north Kashmir through Hokersar wetland reserve.
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