Loot of green gold in Kashmir with impunity
Mir Sabeen Gulrez
Kashmir is rich in natural forests and although the Forest Department continues its operations against jungle smugglers, the people living near the forests are engaged in illegal felling of trees. Extensive forest cover is found in all the four districts of South Kashmir and the forests are much safer than in North and Central Kashmir. The forest department claims it has largely curbed forest smuggling and is continuing operations against forest smugglers. However, people living near forests have been found to be more harmful to the green gold mines than forest smugglers. the Willow Range in Kokranag, found that people living near the forests cut down trees in broad daylight, which clearly shows the negligence of the authorities. As a result, ancient and precious trees fall down after a while. Sources said that these people cut the trunks of the trees from all sides and burn them due to which these trees, worth lakhs of rupees, become weak and hollow inside and fall on their own, which these people later use for themselves. As a result, lush and hundreds of years old trees are slowly disappearing.Experts say that pine and other types of trees take one hundred to one hundred and fifty years to grow fully.”If we do not protect these trees, the day is not far when our future generations will curse us because we have failed to protect these beautiful, lush and precious forests,” they said.Civil society groups have called on the forest department officials to take action against forest smugglers as well as those involved in such deforestation.
“We saw devastation and mass scale deforestation going on at Kupwara Anantnag, Budgam, this made me and my friends sad. Leaving the place with a heavy heart, we went to the Deputy Commissioner’s office with a plea and appealed to him to launch a campaign in the area, however, nothing was done so far.”
According to figures, the Jammu and Kashmir government has recovered over 37,000 cubic feet of timber from timber smugglers in different parts of the Kashmir region. The officials admit that there have been many occasions where the forest smuggling mafia got “free hand” to carry out mass-scale deforestation. However; they claimed that plantation drives launched by the Department of Forest, Environment and Ecology and erecting of fencing and boundary walling has helped in rampant felling of trees by timber mafia—this they said would otherwise affect the larger ecology balance and take a toll on the green gold of the Kashmir region.
According to officials, the forest department seized over 37,9437.19 cubic feet of timber and registered around 626 cases of timber smuggling during 2019-2020 and onwards. The forest officials say that nearly 78 horses have been seized from April 2021 onwards.
The Divisional Forest Officer, Tangmarg, while reacting to such claims said that the fallen trees are old dry stumps refreshed by women folk during collection of Firewood. “Recently, 5 PSAs have been issued against timber smugglers of the area.”
Pertinently, Jammu and Kashmir has 21,387 sq km of forest area. Nearly 47.80% of Jammu and Kashmir’s geographical area is covered by forests. The officials say that economically, the forests in Jammu and Kashmir generate over 2 million man-days of employment and have a monetary value equivalent to Rs 1.93 lakh crore.
‘Start of STRATEGY’
The key constituents of forest damages have been thoroughly examined and accordingly prevention and remedial measures have been taken viz. The people living in forest fringe villages indulge in wood cutting due to underlying socio-economic factors such as poverty, lack of accessibility and lack of employment opportunities.
The Forest department has first allowed road constructions in inaccessible forest villages through PMGSY scheme under Forest Conservation Act which has facilitated access to these forest fringe village people to go to towns for seeking job opportunities. The Forest department has also involved local people in plantation and timber extraction works which has provided them employment at their own place. He says that the forest department has also developed Trekking routes and Eco-parks in vulnerable and smuggling prone areas which has created plenty of opportunities for them to earn their livelihood. On the other hand, the chronic and habitual timber smugglers have been booked under Public Safety Act to create perceptual deterrence.
He further shared that the Forest department has placed the right people for the right job and has effectively involved Forest Protection Force and Police in carrying out the scientific investigations in forest crime cases. These investigations have led to disclosure of nexus existing between various agencies in facilitating illicit timber trade and it has eventually led to arrest of big fishes including officials wherever they have been involved.
“The Forest department has seized many vehicles used in timber transportation which have been confiscated in favour of the government. The forest department has seized and canceled many licenses of saw mill owners who have been found involved in illicit timber trade,” he informed, adding that the remedial measures adopted by forest dept include no. of special plantation projects undertaken in previously degraded and deforested forest areas such as in Tosamaidan, Shopian, Rafiabad and Kandi.
“Millions of plants have been planted by the Forest Department especially under CAMPA scheme over the last few years in these areas which are showing very positive results. The previously degraded swathes are now turning green.” He says that there is a large public support to the Forest department in forest conservancy and efforts of forest department have received tremendous support from civil society, media which have given real boost to forest frontline staff extraordinarily working in the field.