Kashmir and its Green Gold

Irfan Yatoo

National Forest Policy 1998 had recommended 66% forest cover for hilly states like J&K. The expanse of 1,01387 sqkm meant the recommended forest cover to be 67,000 sq km. But recorded area is only 20,230 sqkm. That means, Kashmir has lost its green cover. (Kashmir News India) Kashmir is losing its beauty too as some beautiful trees are being cut. The present forest cover is only 10%. With this change, floods and landslides may become more frequent. There has to be comprehensive programme of afforestation, but the people have to be involved.

Excerpts:

Loss of Legacy:

“J&K Forest Department has outlived most of the precious trees that have adorned the Valley as laurels of high praise. The department may celebrate more than 130 years of being in service, but would the jubilance be with without remorse of its failings to protect and regenerate what has draped us in a rich cloak of everlasting beauty and protected us all along.

As per the government’s claim on Green Srinagar project, nearly 40,000 saplings have been planted in district Srinagar that houses the capital city by the same name. Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, said nearly 40 thousand tree saplings of different varieties have been planted in 100 schools, over 12 thousand in different departments, about 1500 in different police stations, over 1000 provided to different NGOs and about 3500 planted in individual households across Srinagar.

This was very much needed, not only in Srinagar but it needs to be emulated in all districts of the state. Greed and indulgence being rampant, forests are vandalised as human population wage its war against the servile nature – for timber and firewood. To save the face the National Forest Policy was brought in 1998. The Policy recommended 66 percent forest cover for hilly areas, like J&K state, and why not; its ecology is sensitive and 17 percent cover recommended for plains would have stripped its beauty and laid it bare.

The expanse of 1,01,387 sq km meant the recommended cover to be about 67,000 sq km. But with just 20,230 sq km recorded area we are more naked than covered. Our state rejoiced temporarily for not being in the notorious list of 14 (states of India) where forest covers have declined, but the repose was short lived with new revelation that 147 sq kms have been lost since 2009.”

Felling Precious Chinars:

“Besides losing the green cover, Kashmir has also lost its beauty as some majestic trees continue to be felled, trees including Chinars. In Shri Pratap Singh College 17 chinars have been identified by the government that would be felled while in three others pruning will be done. Srinagar has the highest number of Chinar trees – 7294, followed by district Anantnag with 6222 and Ganderbal with 4562.

The quandary of Naseem Bagh that once extended from Regional Engineering College (now NIT) to Kashmir University campus is unmistakable, with chinars reduced and confined to a small area. Besides chinars, Kashmir valley was also famous for green promenades, popularly known as green tunnels.

While poplars have been giving a hard time to authorities after drawing criticism from some health experts as causing widespread pollen problem, their reduction has also had a bearing on the coverage area.  As if the damage by industries – resin, joinery mills, basket making, wood carving and Khair were not enough that more injuries by uncontrolled grazing, felling trees and encroachments passed before us without a scorn.

We provided concessions to those living on fringes, but whose livestock do they rear? We have a 10 percent forest cover and the figure is dwindling – we are exposed, the beauty of Vale is despoiled, the green gold is disappearing and very soon we may be standing on an arid land gazing at bare and lifeless mountains.

The rejuvenating environment, clean air and distinct healing touch our forests provide and for which we have proved to be so ungrateful may drop from the free menu. Also, there have been a number of political controversies on illegally acquiring some of the forest areas in the state. The history of the state has always accommodated nomads and tribes moving from one place to another.

Political Interference:

“The government allows them temporary occupation of the forest areas as well as use of firewood. But some politicians have been in news for displacing these tribes and further their own vested interests. With the land records in the state being poorly managed, forest areas have been easily usurped.

Green Kashmir does not only mean healthy environment to sustain the population and natural beauty to make the stay worthwhile. In 2014, Kashmir witnessed massive floods with the destruction whose cost was estimated above Rs 1 lakh crore. Floods and landslides in valley may become frequent as the green cover gets reduced to much lesser than the required percentage.

In the recent Green Srinagar project one thing that seemed to be missing was encouraging participation of the people of Kashmir. If the government takes the responsibility and doesn’t share it, it will become a burden over the years. Instead, people of Kashmir, young students particularly, need to be engaged to restore the green balance.

Eventually, the government’s role will be reduced and responsible citizens will take care of the environment. No one would be interested to travel or visit for a leisurely sojourn and then we would ponder – once upon a time our Vale was clad in green. Like the Forest Department, we would outlive the trees, the one resource we should have protected and regenerated”.

 

[Courtesy: Daily Rising Kashmir, Srinagar, Kashmir, March 27, 2019].

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