15th century saint and poet Sheikh ul Alam famously remarked: “Ann poshi teli yeli wan poshi”, meaning “food is subservient to forests.” Simply put, the food will last as long as forests last. In 2014, the then forest minister in the erstwhile state legislature said 12,000 hectares of demarcated forest land was under encroachment of various persons and some luxury hotels have been built. In fact, he said the forest cover is “shrinking unabated”.
Last year, post August 5 decisions, the former Forest Advisory Committee approved the diversion of over 727 hectares of designated forest land as well as the felling of at least 1,847 trees, which included 1,471 trees inside designated forest areas and 376 trees in areas earmarked for social forestry for various “developmental projects”.
Kashmir has been known for its greenery all over the world. People of Jammu and Kashmir have been for ages depending on forests timber for construction besides innumerous useful and nourishing herbs.
However, for few decades now, lush green forests have faced axe. The deforestation by timber smugglers, some government agencies and even people bordering the forests, keeps on damaging large scale land for construction of private houses, residential colonies, and even some government offices.
The effects of degradation of forests is already visible in drying up of perennial water sources at many places, accelerated soil erosion, flash floods, silting up of reservoirs, loss of biodiversity and reduced forest productivity.
People need to wake up and to save the forests. From ancestors, people of Jammu and Kashmir have inherited a ‘paradise on earth’. The unusual weather being experienced is giving a warning to all, whether ordinary people or those at the helm of affairs.
There is no denying that natural resources for industrial and allied sector growth is important but the administration and the concerned people should consider the ecosystem services that the forests provide to J&K. There is a need to evaluate whether such large-scale diversion and conversions will be beneficial in the long-run or ruin the ecological fragile place beyond repairs. There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the unseen benefits of forests but the already existing impact is for everyone to perceive. Rather there is heat to feel for everyone. There is a serious impact on biodiversity, food, water, energy security, and public health due to depleting forests and it needs to be considered by one and all. Efforts should be to save and protect the forests.