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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Please Shed a Tear for Kashmir's Disappearing Grasslands

Prof. Kak pleads to scientists of all spheres, NGO's and the interested locals of the state to come forward and work for the protection of our grasslands as well their wealth (flora and fauna)

(Dr. A. Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Vanishing grass lands of the valley once supporting excellent ground flora

Kashmir is world famous for many things besides fine grassy meadows, pasturelands, grasslands, arable and wastelands. All these alpine and other meadows are situated in the lap or on the top of the hefty mountains spreading along vast tracts, attracting aesthetic naturalists, poets, scientists and the people of other fields. Many such meadows have turned into tourist places because of being lovely attractive and soothing to eyes and having abundant green turf and flowers of visible spectrum. These are locally known as "Margs" and "Nais". Many such meadows have attained the world famous names like Sona marg,Shaji marg, Gul marg, Yus marg, providing mental solace, spiritual feast and refreshing atmosphere for the visitors at various altitudes. Margs in the valley are of three distinct types these have been named as temperate margs; sub alpine margs and alpine margs.

1) Temperate margs range from 2000-2500 m above sea level and are formed on the flat plateau especially at the foothills of mountains. These extensive lovely meadows support beautiful turf of many nutritive herbs and fodder grasses.
2.) Sub alpine margs are existing in between 2500-3000 m above sea level especially on the ridges and inner mountain ranges. These are also extensive but are sloppy; often inhabited by plants of stunted bushy habit, under which a rich carpet of grasses and sedges in association with lovely sub alpine medicinal herbs are existing.
3.) Alpine pastures are situated between 3200 m up to snow line, forming a distinct belt beholding innumerable handsome herbs, nestling sometimes in accessible places or growing under the shady thickest of lush green forest. These lovely, rich pasturelands support large herds of our wild migratory herbivores and domesticated animals of our villagers and nomads (Gujjars and Bakerwalls), who solely depend on their livestock roaming along with them from one pastureland to the other during summer and winter months, providing flesh, milk, wool and hide locally. Thus playing a key role in developing the economy of the state to a great extent. Many grassland along with marginal lands locally called "Chariae"or gassae chariae (free grazing lands) are almost neglected by the concerned authorities and are at the verge of vanishing. Part of them have been encroached, fenced and planted with timber trees by the locals or at places residential houses have been illegally constructed with the result many of them have almost shrunk and squeezed. Sub alpine pasturelands too have totally changed in their form, because of the felling of forest trees, bushes and rushes for the construction of residential houses and other commercial 3-7 star hotels and guest houses, as the people desire to spend their holidays in solitude away from public noise and other such disturbances. Large tracts of our grasslands are converted into arable and brought under cultivation of cereal grasses like wheat, barley, maize; oats etc. at places rice is cultivated in the terraced fields changing the grass lands into paddy fields. Free access of the tourists without any proper waste disposal system and strict check on eco degradation has played havoc, construction of golf courses, recreation and children parks in these margs have also squeezed them and reduced the biodiversity by carpeting with the artificial grasses.

Alpine meadows were supporting huge number of medicinal herbs besides other fodder grasses, are unrestrictedly grazed by sheep and goats that has resulted in the replacement and proliferation of number of useless and obnoxious weeds that are not edible but poisonous and harmful to the livestock, besides exterminating other nutritive alpine herbs. The unregulated and uncontrolled grazing and felling of the trees is responsible for the destruction of many rare and endemic grass species, where no chance is given to the seedling to regenerate due to over grazing by the local flocks. The deleterious effect on the quality of pasturelands by the spread of obnoxious, useless and poisonous weeds is of great concern and are the areas of much interest for the botanist because they provide excellent examples of the effect of competition and selection and of the development of a different local flora. In Malkha area (largest grave yard of Muslims at the foot hill of Hari Parbat Fort) which was once supporting the flora of its own including medicinal plants like Tetwen, isband, tseri tamool, lossi gassae etc. in abundance has now been totally replaced by thick covers of thorny bush from Rajasthan brought here through sheep.

The condition of our vast spread grasslands and meadows is pitiable because of the mismanagement, overgrazing, erosion of the land and the illegal encroachment for the construction of the residential houses, guesthouses, restaurants and the lands leased for the construction of 5 or 7 star hotels. Now even sold to the shrine board for the increase of pollution and filth and for the construction of the latrines and other such barracks. Vast tracts have been converted into national and international golf fields and public parks. Heavy rush of the local and foreign visitors now reaching up to the snow peak zones by chair lifts locally called Gondola or by trekking and trespassing has affected ecologically sensitive varieties that are taking their last breaths, changing the whole biodiversity of our naturally rich meadows.

Large proportion of our village population is associated with pastoral activities directly dependant on them for their livelihood. Gujjars and Bakerwalls, Pahul (Shepherds) utilize the green and nutritious grasses of these meadows for their live stock feeding. It is beyond doubt that grass lands such as margs are major consumers of the increased level of carbon dioxide and keeps the global warming under control also the depletion of water resources day by day, margs are sure water sheds which guarantees the perennial flow of our down stream water bodies. These are actual gold mines for the medicinal, Ethnobotanical and aromatic plants which can acquire rich economic dividends for commercial exploitation by the pharmaceutical industry.

Our grasslands have received no attention either by state or by the central government. These have been neglected particularly for the last one or two decades because of the prevailing conditions in the state. Thick forests of Pinus, Deodar, Betula, Paratiopsis Juglans have been cleared and the wood smuggled. Unauthorized felling has created exposure and erosion that has over all effected both the environ as well domesticated flock. Their number is declining which in due course of time will affect our state economy on large scale.

God has been kind enough by providing such climatic and edaphic conditions particularly in the surrounding high lands that favour the growth of temperate and alpine species of grasses and medicinal herbs. These pasturelands if tendered properly can be of immense economic significance to the various departments, like sheep wool and animal husbandry, where borine population acutely faces winter feeding and scarcity of fodders. Raring suitable and adaptive breeds feeding on local available fodder can achieve best translucent pastoral economy.
All communities (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and many Buddhist etc,) in Kashmir are non vegetarians; a huge amount is spent annually for the import of mutton from other states. The availability of local pastureland may sustain and help a lot in raring of domesticated animals to a large extent that may help to improve the social conditions of our people residing in the remote and hilly areas. Some grasses are more readily grazed than others and no doubt have attractive flavour or scent. The excellent fodder available to our sheep industry helps to increase the wool production which is considered one of the best qualities of putto (a woolen blanket) and was once famous outside the state and country, beside the increase in the flesh production along with palatable excellent taste.

Scientists of all spheres, NGO and the interested locals of the state should come forward and work for the protection of our grasslands as well their wealth (flora and fauna). They should take steps to protect the remains of both high and low altitudinal meadows like Kungwatan (Aharabal), Zagiinarg(Noor abad), Raineur (Saidew), Gudhar (Kulgam) Chrari Shrief (Yusmarg); Gulmarg, Sona marg, Thajwas,Shopian Feroizpur Nallah and low altitudinal areas of the villages and towns like Gogji pathur. Tosa maiden, Pahalgam, Shankeracharya, Zabarwan, Ningle nallah, Baba Reshi, Hari parbhat Fort, and should, identify the existing members of this vast group in the form of fodders that are highly nutritious and palatable to our domesticated animals. In order to raise their number and to increase their flesh.

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