The vanishing green belt of Kashmir !

kashmir trees

(One of the main causes for drastic climate change in the valley has been the indiscriminate felling of trees and the conversion of agricultural land!)

The most extensively used words these days are the “Climate Change”! The weather in most parts of the world has been behaving in a strange way. Some places are getting extremely hot while as in some places the weather is colder for this part of the year. In some of the Arab countries the temperatures have crossed sixty degrees Celsius while as in some parts of Europe it is getting cooler than usual. In our sub-continent in many places the temperature has crossed fifty degrees Celsius. There are many factors for this drastic climate change but the most talked about is emission of harmful gases from automobiles, power plants and other similar industries. Apart from the fact of an astronomical increase in the emissions, the other major contributing factor has been the fast vanishing green cover all over the world due to so called “Development”! The green cover had been absorbing these emissions especially Carbon Dioxide and purifying the air. Theabsorption of carbon Dioxide enriches the oxygen content in the air. It has been estimated that the conversion of a part of the Sahara desert in Africa can absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide and purify the air. The Chinese have already gone ahead with converting some of their desert areas into green belts. While as these people so conscious abouttheir environment are trying to convert deserts into green belts, we, on the other handare converting our green belts into barren land which may ultimately turn into deserts!

We have virtually massacred our lush green forests in many places. According to forest policy of India 33% of the total area of every region in plains and 60% in the Himalayan region must be under forest but unfortunately the forest area in India is not more than 22%. Similarly forest area of Jammu and Kashmir is not more than 20% of the total area of the state. However, according to Satellite it is not more than 10% of total area of Jammu and Kashmir.Over 14,000 hectares of forest land has been encroached upon by the people in the J&K state as per 2010 survey. According to the record of forest department 9,496 hectares of forest land in the Jammu region and 4877 hectares in Kashmir valley had been encroached with total forest area of 20,230 km2. This area was largely distributed in the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region. Leh and Kargil are mostly devoid of forest vegetation. Of the total forest area in the state, 8128 km2 is in the Kashmir valley, and 12066 km2 in Jammu, and 36 km2 in Ladakh region.

In addition to intentional deforestation by timber smugglers, some government agencies and even people bordering the forests, the green belt has further been damaged by large scale conversion of agricultural land for construction of private houses, residential colonies, and some state government offices including one responsible for planned development of the state! There are no two opinions that agriculture is the primary economic activity in Kashmir. Almost 75% people are linked with agriculture in the valley. In fact, in earlier times Kashmir was self-sufficient in food and vegetables but not now. The bulk of our food grains and vegetables are imported from outside. In addition, residential as well as commercial buildings have been constructed on agricultural land. These days a number of shopping complexes, residential colonies and even government buildings are coming up on the once agricultural land. The government departments responsible for protecting the land use are totally silent or rather intentionally mum for certain considerations, both political and monetary. Under the revenue rules a piece of agricultural land had to remain unproductive for at least for 40 years before it could be declared unusable for agriculture and put to some other use. This rule seems to have disappeared from the revenue department rule book! In 2012, the State High Court had directed all Deputy Commissioners to strictly ensure the implementation of the Agricultural Act and the Land Revenue Act. The concerned Commissioners were directed to monitor implementation of these directions on the ground. Unfortunately nothing was done and the violations of both the acts continue unabated.

Incidentally, our ancestors left for us a land which was described by Mughal Emperors as the “Heaven on Earth”! They had said, “If there is a heaven on Earth, it is this, it is this and it is this!” If Kashmir has to survive as a “Paradise on Earth”, then the green belt has to be saved. The government alone cannot do it. One has to have a strong and universal movement involving all the citizens to save Kashmir’s green belt. The movement has to involve the entire society regardless of political beliefs or affiliations. If Kashmir’s environment goes, it is immaterial whatever political or physical set up it has in future. The unusual weather being experienced is giving us a warning. If we do not heed the warning and act now, we are doomed! We would be unfortunately leaving a hell for our future generations!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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