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, June 4, 2009

Common Denominator Between Forests and Urban Sprawl: Disappearing Trees

What good will the government machinery do if common citizens do not stop delogging and stealing? Two related reports on timber smuggling by mafia and tree thefts from public landscaping by individuals

Our Forests and Timber Smuggling

Aijaz Ahmad (General Secretary, State Forest Corporation Employees Union)

The present article is about timber smuggling the discussion is being restricted to only three sub departments which are directly connected i.e. Forest Department, Forest Corporation and Forest Protection Force. If these three sub departments are managed on a rational pattern there will be no smuggling of timber in the state, unfortunately this doesn’t happen. As a result of manipulative tactics of a strong timber mafia in our state (which has political patronage) the whole system has been derailed deliberately.

If we examine the original forest policy, the forest department is the overall custodian of the forests. However due to the political instability in the state the Forest Department has taken up extraction and transportation work with sale of timber in conccesationl zones. This is main flaw in the system as the department which is to act as custodian is allowed to extract and sell timber. In simple terms it means that in a forest range along with one or two persons is having all the powers, to felling the trees, transport the timber and finally sale the timber of. Since administrative control of forest check posts, timber sale depots and sawmills of the area are also with territorial forest department it makes the system quite vulnerable and prone to misuse. In absence of an effective checking and controlling squad it makes smuggling of timber quite easy. Thus the officials who are basically responsible for protection and development of forests have been empowered to extract and sell timber. Since check posts and control of sawmills have been vested with Territorial Forest Department, the timber mafia has to just develop contact with other persons.

The highly powerful timber mafia manages all the things and ensures cover and backup of higher level forest officers, security agencies including local police authorities, bureaucrats and politicians. If regular and prescribed duties, as were assigned as per original plan, were adopted then Forest Department would have to identify and mark the stuff which has to be extracted and then it would ensure that marking is done accurately which would then handed over to SFC against proper receipt and account. Felling carried out by SFC have been closely scrutinized by officials of forest department who would have maintained an account and allowed transportation of only legitimate timber from forests after maintaining an account of the same. For effective control of smuggling the territorial controlling agency should not have any direct involvement regarding extraction and sale of timber. Forest protection force would have acted as another deterrent in checking any mischief anywhere.

Due to lack of accountability and mismanagement our forest officers at the helm of affairs have lost the will and aptitude to protect forests, whereas the basic aim should have been to avoid damage to the forest. With the result the pace of destruction of forests has assumed alarming proportions and the day may not be far off when timber like deodar and kail will be a rare commodity.

The scenario calls for wholesale revamping of our forest department. First of all the trade unions of Forest Department, SFC and Forest Protection Force need to be controlled as all these trade unions are being managed by timber mafia which have their leaders on its payroll. In my opinion these trade union leaders need to be shifted from their present place of posting and districts, secondly their business activities need to be got verified as most of these trade union leaders have side business related with timber.

Furthermore the focus should turn to get those people who have professional integrity. There is urgent need to create a sort of competition between officers of forest department and forest protection force in tackling timber smuggling. For this both the departments need to be given independent setting and proper accountability. Conditions are to be created so that these two departments do not join together and form a nexus with timber smugglers as is going on presently. Deputation of forest officers to Forest protection force from territorial forest department is to be kept at minimum.

The present transfer policy of deputing officers from forest department to protection force has started giving negative results as it helps them to form a nexus.

The need of hour is to spell out independent role and responsibilities for these two departments to check smuggling which may include transfer of forest check posts to forest protection force. If this proposal is found feasible it could help forest department to utilize its personnel in safeguarding forests to minimize damage there.

By introduction of two agencies in the field the smuggling will become difficult. Any smuggled timber caught outside a forest area should be basis for explanation and action should be taken against the concerned in charge of the compartment and range from where it has been smuggled out. However this can be effective only when forest protection force is controlled by officers who have independent existence and are ready to confront officers of territorial forest department.

Similarly all extraction, transportation should work together with sale of timber and should be managed by Forest Corporation. Timber to be used in all government works need to be supplied by it. It should be made mandatory for all government work to allow cost of timber only as per bills provided directly by corporation. The idea is to minimize scope for sale of smuggled timber. Conditions are to be created to make it less lucrative whereas efforts are to be made to create hurdles in smuggling of timber from forests. Foolproof system is to be devised to minimize misuse of supply of subsidized timber.

All the three sub departments should be given powers and made accountable for checking smuggling of timber which can be checked and cross-checked. For this first step will be to make timber available to common citizens of state.

Deputation of forest officers from Forest Department to Forest Corporation and vice versa as was ordered by former government need to be continued but simultaneously it has to be made result oriented. Only those officers are to be deputed to corporation who can put in efforts needed for running a commercial organization, for this time bound targets for each division are to be set, circle need to be fixed which should cater to demands of timber requirements in state. Failures in achieving the targets should be viewed seriously and the defaulters taken to task as it can cause problems for common man of the state. Good workers need to appreciated and encouraged. Corporate culture needs to be introduced in corporation for which a delegation of power is important; by making it foolproof and target oriented it is possible to streamline the working and to encourage good performance. Excess staff in SFC can be absorbed in protection force to provide it with necessary manpower. However the corporation employees need to be given better service conditions which should be at least at par with those in forest department if not better than them as they are expected to work in difficult situation and circumstances and the success of forest working is dependant upon their efficiency.

Second important thing action should be taken to implement a transparent uniform rational, well-defined transfer policy. All officers having questionable integrity who have not been able to check activities of timber smuggling need to be sidelined, the action should start from top. Efforts are to be made to get those people who have professional integrity. Recently there was a press report in local media wherein it was reported that transfers are being made as per paying capacity of a forest officer. It was alleged that those officers who can afford, manage good posting irrespective of their professional capacity and capability. Under the influence of money power senior, honest officers are sidelined whereas juniors are given prime postings. After recent transfer orders issued (10/10/2008) there was a general resentment among forest officers, it was alleged that some officers have been holding a post for years together whereas others are transferred quite frequently without any reason or cause. Some officers have been attached without any reason whereas some junior ones are made to function on higher posts. Reportedly some junior officers are so powerful that they ensure to get senior officers of their own choice. Unless and until this type of transfer policy is changed there is no scope for improvement. The transfer orders should simple the objective of better results and efficiency not political or monetary position.

All this can be done only if government is serious about protection of forests, politicians of state have not given a good performance so far and all of them without any exception have encouraged the loot of our forests. Present government has a golden opportunity to reverse the trend provided it has will to do so, and can effectively check manipulations of paid agents of timber mafia. This group has its sympathizers at important places that are experienced to sabotage constructive efforts.

Tree thefts deprive city roads of greenery

Srinagar: The efforts to develop city greenery are being marred by the theft of plants from the road verges. Besides, places where the drainage repairs and construction of fountains are undertaken, the concerned people use the pavements and road dividers for dumping the dig-out mud and building material.

The Landscape Division of Public Works Department (PWD) is finding it difficult to secure the plantations.

Executive Engineer of the landscape division, Gani Ahmad told Rising Kashmir the newly planted trees are the most difficult to secure “as tree thefts have become a norm even though the trees are secured within iron tree guards.”

Ahmad said last year trees planted on the central verge at Batamaloo went missing and only few exist now.

The official said common people too do not care for plantations in the city.

“Most of the refuse and waste material is dumped inside the tree guards which affects the plantation growth,” said Ahmad

“The replacement of damaged trees is tough as the season may not be favourable every time. Even if we want to replace the trees it will not be possible as the planting season is limited,” he said.

The official added that they continue to plant trees that have been grown in pots or polybags and do not wither after planting.

The second biggest threat to trees are the various civic works carried on roads.

Almost all the plantation on North-South Corridor last year has been damaged as the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) is laying a sewerage network and dumping the material on the verge that has damaged the new plantation.

“Similarly, Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s fountain project has also damaged our plantations at roundabouts,” Ahmad said.

(Rising Kashmir)

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