Valley Losing green gold, J&K Govt unmoved

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Ishtiyaq Ahmad

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir has been losing forests as government has failed to take concrete steps on the ground for the preservation.
Kashmir was one of the richest regions across India with regard to flora and fauna. However, the number of plants is shrinking. Despite government’s claims about planting trees along the roads but not much is visible on the roads.
Take instance in Srinagar city, you won’t find greenery along the roads which could help in reducing growing pollution.
The Government has been spending a huge amount of money on planting trees and saplings to beautify the streets of Srinagar. However, the saplings dry or are stolen.
The three nodal agencies are responsible for the maintenance of the saplings, the Forest Department, Urban Forest Department and the Roads and Buildings Department (landscape division) seem not doing much on the ground.
An official of Forest Department told said government has been spending crores on plantation every year but fails to keep its maintenance. “These departments also face shortage of staff to keep the maintenance,” the official said.
The National Green Tribunal has also rapped the National Highways Authority of India for not maintaining the mandatory green cover along national and state highways.
The Forest Policy also stresses plantation of trees alongside roads, railway lines, and rivers.
However, not many plants are along roads in the Valley. Even the government has failed to plant trees along the highways, which is mandatory as per National Green Tribunal directives.
In Srinagar, major roads are without greenery.
Bashir Ahmad, a school teacher said planting saplings would be of no use unless government makes efforts for their maintenance.
“We have lost our green forests to a great extent. If immediate measures are not taken for preservation of trees, it will have serious consequences in the future,” he said.
Similarly, J&K’s progress in declaring several national parks and sanctuaries as Eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) has been far from satisfactory.
The Eco-sensitive zones are formed to serve as “shock absorber” for protected areas. The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to minimise negative impact on the fragile ecosystem around.
In 2006, the Supreme Court had directed all the states to safeguard protected areas by surrounding them with a buffer of ecologically fragile areas or Eco-sensitive zones (ESZs).
On December 11, 2018, the apex court ordered, “Under the circumstances, we direct that an area of 10 kilometre around 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries be declared as ESZs by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The declaration be made by the ministry at the earliest.”
Jammu and Kashmir has its forest cover stretching over 23,241 square kilometers, which is 10.46 per cent of its total geographical area of 222336 square kilometers.
An official of Forest Department said they have been facing stiff opposition for clearing forest from encroachers.
“Thousands of kanals have been encroached by bureaucrats, politicians and forces over the years. There are some powerful people who have been creating hurdles in eviction process,” the official said.
The official said that forest land has been encroached over the years as majority of forest area is without demarcation.
“The government has failed to implement the Forest Policy properly, which could have saved our green gold from encroachers. Artificial boundaries are demarcated around forestland at several places in J&K.  Half of the forest land is open without any demarcation and civilian population is residing in its area at several places, posing a serious threat to its species,” the official said.
While J&K Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Mohit Gera said many measures have been taken for preservation of forests. (KINS)

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