Golf, the guzzler

A golf course in Srinagar.  

A few days ago, while flipping the pages of a recent issue of Sanctuary Asia, I learnt of how power brokers had managed to turn Salim Ali National Park in Srinagar into a golf course. A staggering 4,000-odd trees were cut down in what was once home to bears, hanguls (Kashmir stag), and myriad other species. We may never fully know the ecological and economic impacts of destroying not only a unique habitat but also a catchment area of the Dal Lake. And it was done for the pleasure of a minuscule proportion of our population, and that too when Gulmarg already has a golf course. The commons meant for use by many were destroyed so that a few could indulge in what G.K. Chesterton famously referred to as “an expensive way to play marbles”.

When I delved deeper, I realised that the golf course in Jammu and Kashmir was neither an exception nor was the issue a recent one. Joan Lowy wrote an article in April 2004 on thirsty golf courses titled ‘America’s 18,000 golf courses are devastating the environment’ while George Monbiot in an article in The Guardian in October 2007 went beyond the environment to say: “All over the world, the construction of golf courses is associated with dispossession and environmental destruction.” Recently, California’s worst drought in decades has raised a series of questions on golf courses. Julia Lurie in an article in August 2015 says, “The average Palm Springs Golf Course uses the same amount of water in a day that a family of four does in five years. The 123 golf courses in Palm Springs use nearly a quarter of the region’s groundwater.”

In India, the now infamous golf course at Kaziranga is only the latest addition to a growing list. Constructed by a Mini Ratna Public Sector Unit, awarded for its contribution to the environment, it lies on a path frequently used by elephants. The debate over Kaziranga Golf Course raised issues such as the runoff of chemicals used in maintaining the lawns entering water sources used by people and wildlife; and the decimation of smaller taxa. A leading spider expert said, “Setting up a golf course is akin to using a razor to wipe out species like spiders and insects.”

There have been reports of a golf course coming up on the mangroves near Mumbai and of the mysterious deaths of four leopards around a golf course near Delhi. Last year, people protested on the streets of Goa against a planned golf course.

Given the concerns — ecological and social — that golf courses have raised across the globe, one would assume that sensitivity to the issue would have been raised. But for some mysterious reason that is not the case. The U.S. President faced a lot of flak when during a trip to California in 2014 — as Zeke Miller reports in TIME — “he called for shared sacrifice to help manage the state’s worst water shortage in decades and then spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the hospitality of some of the state’s top water hogs: desert golf courses”.

India, unfortunately, is not far behind on ironies either. One large organisation that lists sustainability as one of its objectives has a golf course within its premises while its website lists golf courses as a water guzzler. Another large organisation, which works for biodiversity conservation, organises a golf tournament, but one of its sister organisations had launched an advertising campaign that focussed on the environmental impact of golf courses in 2007. Golf courses appear to be more of a symptom than a disease. The disease where a few people with power progressively usurp the resources meant for common use by everybody. It is time for the common people to speak up.

Nimesh Ved is a history buff and an avid blogger.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 11:05:25 PM |

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