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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saving Kashmir's Forests

Jehangir examines a sad reality in Kashmir

(Mr. Jehangir Rashid Malik, 36, was born in Srinagar, and did his primary schooling at the Green Land Educational Institute in Hawal, Srinagar. He studies at the Sri Partap Higher Secondary School for classes XI and XII, and completed his Bachelor's degree through distance mode from the University of Kashmir. He subsequently graduated from the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the University of Kashmir with a Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. As a journalist, he is associated with the Civil Society, a New Delhi magazine, and is the Editor of Kashmir Plus, a news and feature based portal of Srinagar. He began his career in journalism as a correspondent with the Kashmir Times, and later worked at the Daily Etalaat (English) and as a news editor with the Daily Khidmat (English). He has been awarded the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award for story writing by the Charkha Development Network, New Delhi, and has received fellowships from the Action Aid India, the Centre for Science and Environment, and the National Foundation for India, all based in New Delhi. In his leisure time, Mr. Malik likes watching cricket and listening to radio programs especially old melodies sung by legends, Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar Ganguly.)

Preserving the Forests

Timber smuggling has always been an issue in the forests as well as wildlife areas of Kashmir valley. There are instances where the people living adjacent to the forests or wildlife areas have prevailed upon the Department of Wildlife Protection to take over the possession of forests or wildlife so that the trees are not cut anymore.

Achabal wildlife sanctuary is a very good example in this respect. The people living around this sanctuary impressed upon the wildlife officials to play their part in taking back the wildlife area which was lying with the Forests Department. “When the Department of Wildlife Protection came into existence this sanctuary forming part of the huge wildlife as well as forest cover was taken over by them. However, due to some reasons known to the government, the possession of sanctuary was handed over to Department of Forests,” says Abdul Razaq, a senior citizen of Achabal.

After observing that damage has been caused to trees in the wildlife area, the residents of the area approached the government. The government took a serious note of the same and following this the possession of demarcated wildlife area was handed back to Department of Wildlife Protection, Razaq adds.“The Forest Department has the authority to sanction timber to the people and it is here the problem lies. The animals present in Achabal wildlife sanctuary would have come down in the human habitation once the trees would have been cut. That would have caused havoc in the area, but I am glad the government has done the needful by handing back the possession of wildlife sanctuary to the Department of Forest Protection,” said Ghulam Mohi-ud-din, another senior citizen of the area.

Praising the role of Imtiyaz Lone, Wildlife Warden-South Kashmir, Abdul Rehman Raina, an employee of Department of Wildlife Protection says that Lone played a pivotal role in restoring the status of Achabal wildlife sanctuary. “Very few people were ready to take back the possession of Achabal wildlife sanctuary going by the damage caused to the trees. However, it goes to the credit of our wildlife warden who took this bold step.” Says Raina.

Ghulam Qadir, a forest guard at Overa wildlife sanctuary in Islamabad district says that during the initial years of militancy the timber smugglers visited the area and cut the trees. He added that the situation improved once the things started to fall at right places. “Due to fear and apprehension in the beginning of militancy very few people would visit the wildlife sanctuary, but this provided a chance to the elements who wanted to cause damage to forest cover. It was at that time most of the trees came down in the wildlife areas, not to talk of forest areas,” said Qadir.

Some people living in the vicinity of wildlife areas think that trees and other kinds of plantation belong to them. They would not bother about the consequences associated with the cutting of trees and would cut them whenever they get a chance. “See we would cooperate with you at every moment, but when it comes to our need we would not hesitate in cutting down the trees. We have been living in this area for centuries and we have been cutting down trees for our own needs as and when required,” says Mohammad Azim, who lives near the Lachipora wildlife sanctuary in North Kashmir while talking to the guards of the sanctuary. Like Azim there are many others who think that it is the government which has to be blamed for the mess vis-à-vis cutting of trees in forests as well as wildlife areas.

“Well the government does not provide any source of energy, like kerosene, to us and in absence of the same how can we cook our meals. We are forced to cut down trees and this would continue unless and until we are provided with alternative sources of energy. The matters have been made worse due to lack of electricity in areas falling close to forests and wildlife areas,” say a group of residents of Limber.

Giving a new dimension to timber smuggling issue and cutting of trees, Mohammad Amin Wani, forest guard at Achabal wildlife sanctuary says that people are forced to resort to malpractices as they don’t get the timber at their doorsteps. “The forest department has the mandate of sanctioning the timber in favour of people, but it has been observed only the blue-eyed persons get the timber from depots at cheap rates. The ones who are left out have to look for options and they would not hesitate in approaching people who are on a lookout for cutting the trees in forests,” said Amin.

Mohammad Akbar Lone, a resident of Baba Gail the last village near the Limber wildlife sanctuary feels that people should not be blamed for cutting of trees. He cites the non-availability of energy sources as the reason and wants the government to do something in this respect.

“Basically most of the people living close to forests and wildlife areas are illiterate and very few among them know the importance of forest cover. If the government provides them the alternative sources of energy they may get motivated to save forests,” says Akbar.

Abdul Rashid Lone, a resident of this village says that ever since the wildlife department has taken over the control of wildlife much of the forest cover has been preserved. He says that the field staff of the forest department used to mislead the people that it would be difficult for them to move in wildlife areas since wild animals would pose a threat.

“This is a myth, but believe me there are still many who believe in this. However, the situation has improved as the literacy rate has gone up, but still a lot has to be done. Some unscrupulous forest department officials who were posted here and did not get any chance to lay hands at the green gold have launched a disinformation campaign against the wildlife department and their officials,” he said.

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