After years of fierce battles between India and Pakistan, Siachen lies bruised and weary. The mounds of human waste, plastic sheets, empty artillery shells, ammunition boxes, parachutes and food packets make the world’s highest battlefield the “most polluted glacier”.
Now, the army is launching a massive clean-up operation as part of its ‘Green-Siachen, Clean Siachen’ plan. The army will take help from the air force to airlift garbage from the glacier.
This is the first such clean-up drive at Siachen, where for 19 years, the sound of booming guns echoed through the layers of snow. It all began in 1984 when the Pakistanis set up their base here. More soldiers of the two armies have died of the freezing temperatures — that dip below 40 degrees Celsius — or just disappeared in the crevices than of war.
“Siachen is the biggest glacier after the north and south poles, but it is also the dirtiest,” said Mohammad Ashraf, spokesman for the Indian Mountaineering Foundation — a body that keeps track of the expeditions and pollution level in the Himalayas. “After each expedition, people came back saying the glacier was the dirtiest they had ever set their foot on,” he said. Ashraf talked of how parachutes are stuck at several places, especially close to the cliff, which has been nicknamed “One short 20” since it stands at the height of 19,999 feet above sea level.
The Siachen Brigade decided to launch the clean-up drive four years after the guns fell silent at the 76 sq km glacier. In November 2003, India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the international border, Line of Control and Siachen.
Lt Col SK Gautam, spokesman of the Northern Command of the Army, told the Hindustan Times that the drive was launched after “an internal study and the army decided to clear the garbage at Sichaen glacier to protect the environment.”
But the spokesman did not disclose the findings of the study. He said the “cleaning and disposal of garbage has been on for the past two years.” On the amount of garbage, he only said that the media reports were “highly exaggerated”. He said ‘biodigeters’ had been employed to dispose of non-biodegradable garbage.
The spokesman denied reports of leaks in kerosene pipes in the glacier. He said, “The pipeline has fusion couplings which do not allow leaks.”
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