Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Impending Ecological Disaster From Loss of Forest Resources in Kashmir

Plunder of J&K Forest Wealth Unabated

Athar Parvaiz (Kashmir Times) provides a disturbing view

SRINAGAR, Jan 1: Forest fires, encroachments and illegal extraction of timber from the forests of the state have cumulatively inflicted a heavy damage on the forest resources of the state over the last many years. Apart from the loss of forest resources worth thousands of crores of Rupees, the damage inflicted on the forests has also resulted into a considerable devastation of other resources like water bodies.

The forest department has not worked out the total damage suffered by the forests in terms of money. However, the other statistics in the forest department, which Kashmir Times gained access to, indicate that the forests have suffered an overwhelming devastation owing to the encroachment of forest land, forest fires and illegal extraction of timber and pilferage of other products from forests. In addition to the direct economic loss, the damage caused to the forest resources by way of encroachments, forest fires and illegal deforestation, has also led to soil erosion on a large scale. According to the figures available with the department 9406.79 hectares of land was found to be encroached upon in the state in year 2002 with 6063.00 hectares of land encroached upon in Kashmir division and 3343.79 hectares in Jammu region. In 2003, the figure rose upto 9697.53 hectares for the entire J & K and in 2004, it further rose to a whopping 12654.90 hectares. The figures of last two years are being worked out, said an official in the Forest Department.

Similarly the increasing forest fires and illegal extraction of timber from forests have also laid their impact on the river apart from resulting into loss of green gold worth thousands of crores of rupees. As per the figures available in the department forest resources spread over 873.10 hectares of forest land were burnt down during 117 fire incidents in forest areas in year 2001-2002. In year 2002-2003, forest resources on 3192.20 hectares of land got reduced to ashes during 432 fire incidents; in the 2003-04, the resources on 1116.61 hectares of land in 104 fire incidents got burnt down; in year 2004-05 the fire engulfed resources on 10288.60 hectares of land inflicting heavy damage.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that about 60 percent of the area of J & K comprises of forests (according to the latest report released by the Remote Sensing Department), no effective controlling measures have been evolved for controlling fires in the forests of the state. Forest fires take place every year in the state allegedly because of the mafia operations (wherein timber smugglers set forest areas ablaze) as also due to the natural reasons. In the modern times, some effective controlling measures have been developed by some countries which include gas sprays, artificial precipitation and creation of timely artificial barriers for preventing the spread of fire. But our state has got none of these modern tools.

No records were available in the Forest Department regarding the illegal extraction of timber from the forests since the department only records the extraction of trees which are marked by the employees of the department for extraction owing to their decadence or damage caused to them during snowfall in winters. However the number of cases the department has registered against the offenders gives some idea about the illegal extraction of timber from the forests. For example as many as 143061 cases registered by the forest department against the offenders were pending till the end of 2004-05. More and more cases get added to the list with each passing month and year.

Experts say that the damage caused to the forests over the years has led to excessive soil erosion which in turn has led to heavy siltation in the River Jhelum and its tributaries. "During the precipitation, the eroded soil gets dumped into tributaries of river Jhelum which ultimately find their way into Jhelum causing heavy siltation in the river. same is the case with the rest of the streams and the rivulets", says Dr Mohammad Sultan who teaches Geography in the Kashmir University. The experts opine that the trend needs to be curbed as early as possible, lest the state would lose forest and other resources in abundance.

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