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.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Beauty and the Beast: When the Official Forest Conservator Turns out to be its Destroyer

Timber Smugglers set Khrew forests on fire

Locals Allege Nexus With Officials, Police


Khrew (Pulwama), Mar 26: A major fire has engulfed the forests of the Khrew Wildlife Conservation Reserve during the past three days here destroying many trees and affecting the wildlife. However the locals blame the timber smugglers for putting the forests on fire to camouflage the illicit felling of trees. The wildlife authorities have ordered an inquiry into the matter and recommended transfer of the concerned forester.

The locals said the fire started in forests at Betdalav and Khudalav on Saturday and gradually destroyed countless Kail trees there. Thick bellows of smoke emanating from the forests has engulfed the entire saffron town and its adjoining areas.

“The fire in the forests is the handiwork of notorious timber smugglers and some unscrupulous forest officials. They burn stumps of the trees to wipe out evidence against them. Ironically, the authorities act as mute spectator to vandalization of the forests,” the locals told Greater Kashmir.

The locals warned this reporter and the accompanying photojournalist not to wander alone in the forests as it was “full of dangerous smugglers,” and volunteered to accompany us. “The irony is that a few decades ago we used to fear the wild animals, and now the smugglers. The smugglers have no mercy for the trees and we don’t expect them to respect humans,” a local youth said.

On way to the forests at Betdalav, the smugglers have marked many trees for felling. Before felling a tree, the locals said the smugglers cut its bark so that its sap gets leaked. Gradually, the tree becomes dry and is easy to cut.

The locals said the felled trees are ferried into the villagers during night. “There is an organised group of timber smugglers active in the area. They bribe some forest officials and openly fell the trees. However, we wonder how the smugglers enjoy free movement during the nights when troops are on high alert. They recently shot dead a bear when it was moving in the forests. It seems the smugglers have nexus with the troops and policemen,” they said.

An aged man wishing anonymity said the vandalization of the forest started after 1995. “The forest was stronghold of militants and nobody dared to go there. After they were killed, the forests turned into a safe haven for smugglers. If the government was serious, let it stop further felling of the trees for our future generations at least,” he said.

The forest officials have their own tale: “We are helpless to act against the smugglers in absence of any security. The smugglers threatened us of dire consequences if we don’t allow them to fell the trees,” a lower rung forest official, wishing anonymity, said.

The locals fear that fire in the Khrew Wildlife Conservation Reserve can spread to the adjoining the Dachigam National Park. “The fire had affected movement of the Kashmiri Stag from Dachigam to the Reserve. Before the fire we spotted many stags in the forests. However they have vanished now,” the locals said.

The wildlife warden central, Rashid Naqash told Greater Kashmir that an inquiry has been ordered in the matter. “We want to know the cause of the frequent fires in the forest range and will take action against the officials if their involvement was ascertained. Meanwhile, I have recommended suspension of the concerned forester and withheld the salary of his staff, till the inquiry was completed.” “We had almost controlled the fire in the Khrew range, however due to strong winds from Tral it has again started. Our men are on the spot to douse the fire,” Naquash said.


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