Documentary film credit: Mipham Jigmet
In continuation of our efforts to clean up the Skara Spang (meadow of Skara village), we joined the residents of Skara for a community clean up on the 25th of July. During the clean up, we asked the Goba (village head) of Skara about the problem of waste littering in the Spang and possible solutions to it. In answer, we received a wealth of information about the Spang, worth everyone's knowing so that all of us take it seriously to protect and preserve the Spang.
Spang: The lifeline of Skara village
Importance of the Skara Spang
The Skara Spang is the last green patch of land left in Leh city. For generations, the Skara Spang had been the lifeline of the people of Skara. It serves as a pastureland for grazing cattle. The chhumik (spring water) in the Spang (meadow) is the only natural source of drinking water in Skara. In earlier times, people from near and far would come to the Skara Spang to drink the spring water, pure and rich in minerals as there were 108 springs in the Spang. These springs were believed to be sacred and attracted visitors from all over the Himalaya. The spring water is channelised for irrigating the many farms in Skara. On the whole, the life of the Skara community is closely connected and heavily dependent on the Spang. The Skara community and its youth, therefore, make lots of effort in preserving the Spang.
Shortage of water and drying up of the pastureland in Skara
The natural environment of the Spang has, however, degraded in the last few decades. About 35 years ago, adjacent to the Spang, the army installed bore wells to supply water to its establishments in and around Leh. As a result of drawing out ground water continuously for over three decades, a large part of the Spang has dried up. This has shrunk the pastureland, leaving a much smaller area for cattle to graze. The decreasing ground water level has also caused a shortage of water in Skara village for the last 8-9 years because the spring water at the Spang is the only natural source of water for drinking and irrigation.
Waste in the Spang
In addition to the problems of shrinking pastureland and water shortage, waste has become a big problem in the Spang. The communities living in the upper localities - from Ganglas to Tukcha - very often throw their household waste in the river and streams, instead of giving over to municipal waste collection trucks. All of that waste gets stuck in the river near the Spang and gets littered all over the place.
Since the start of the pandemic, many families have been coming to the Spang for eating and drinking. They leave their waste behind, which includes food packaging, beverage bottles and many other items. Very often people consume alcohol in the Spang and throw the bottles, cans, cigarette butts and packets in the Spang itself. Crushed bottles of alcohol and littered glass pieces can be sighted commonly in the Spang.
Another cause of waste in the Spang is the link road to the airport which passes through the Spang. People passing on the link road by car often throw their waste on the roadside near the Spang. Both tourists and locals have been spotted doing such things. Those who come to the Spang by car to fetch spring water have also been caught throwing waste in the river nearby.
The Spang had a fencing to enclose the pastureland, but, over the years, the fencing has been damaged by people for making way into the Spang. Now the Spang does not have a proper boundary which is a reason why people enter the Spang easily and spoil it. There aren't any signages either around the Spang, which would tell people to not enter, not litter, and not spoil the Spang in any way.
Community's efforts in preserving the Spang
The Skara community, led by their village head - the Goba - have taken a couple of steps to address the problems threatening the natural environment of the Spang. But the steps have not resulted in much. They have filed a case against the army to close the bore wells located near the Spang, but, the case has not been resolved for 35 years. They have put in a request with the local administration to fence the entire Spang, but that request is also pending.
The Skara community has a youth group, which monitors the Spang and checks any inappropriate acts, such as littering or drinking. But of late, the members of the youth group have had to face aggressive behaviour from certain people, mostly youngsters, who were doing drugs or consuming alcohol. Since these incidents, the youth group has become fearful of disciplining people in the Spang. On the whole, it is difficult to monitor the Spang.
The Skara community is extremely concerned about the continuous damage being inflicted on the Spang. They can foresee that drawing out ground water by the army might lead to a complete loss of pasture in the Spang in a few decades. They also fear that the increasing amount of waste thrown in the Spang and waste arriving to the Spang with the river and streams will pollute the spring water, leaving it unfit for drinking and irrigation.
The community of Skara comes together regularly to clean the Spang, although they believe that is not the solution to the problem of waste in the Spang. No sooner than they clean up the Spang, waste is found littered there again.
Steps for preserving the Spang
Preserving the Skara Spang is of great importance: (1) It is a pastureland for cattle to graze; (2) The spring water is the only natural source of drinking water for the Skara community; (3) The water is also used for irrigating the farms and gardens in and around Skara.
The people of Skara, represented by their Goba, therefore, would like everyone to help in preserving the Spang. They would like, first and foremost, the administration to fence the entire area of the Spang. That would stop the undesirable activities, like eating, drinking, smoking, littering, to a great extent.
Secondly, the people of Skara would like the army bore wells adjacent to the Spang be removed so that the spring water, which keeps the Spang hydrated, does not deplete further and does not dry up more area of the Spang. They believe that the government authorities have to put in more effort to make this happen.
Thirdly, the Skara community would like residents and tourists to refrain from going to the Spang as far as possible since it is not a place for eating, drinking and smoking. Seeing even some people do such activities encourages others to do the same.
Lastly, people living in the localities higher than the Spang, i.e. from Ganglas to Tukcha, must put a stop to throwing waste in the river and streams. Each person must become aware of the importance of the Spang and help in preserving it.