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, October 8, 2009

Preserving Rich Biodiversity and Wildlife

Mubashir says without a firm political resolve it will all disappear

(Mr. Taha Mubashir Husain, 37, was born and raised in Bandipore. He received his schooling and higher education all around the Wullar Lake in the Bandipore area. He has a post-graduate degree in Ecology and Environment. He is the spokesperson of the Kashmir Environmental Protection Coordination Organization (KEPCO), and on behalf of the KEPCO received an award on Wild Life Protection in Srinagar on October 2, 2007. Presently he is serving in the J&K Department of Education. He is a nature conservation activist and environmental protection is his motto and in his leisure time he promotes environmental education.)

Wildlife-Conflict Mitigation and Conservation

Wildlife to the human being means the undomesticated animals in their natural habitat like forests, grasslands and deserts but ecologically includes both flora ad fauna, hence a human misunderstanding of the values of wildlife and its role in linking the food chain that guarantees survival of life at this planet. The colorful birds, animals and other life forms are important in maintaining the biodiversity and ecological balance.

Nature has bestowed Kashmir with an immense biodiversity and rich gene pool resources with priceless treasures. Dense lush green forests, alpine pastures, snow bound peaks, glaciers, gushing rivers, streams and fascinating wetlands like Wullar , Dal, Hokersar, Hygam etc offering conducive breeding grounds for the migratory birds which add to the color and beauty of the valley. Kashmir exhibit rich diversity of wild flora and fauna.

The flora includes coniferous forests occurring between 1600m to 3200m being temperate dominated by the Blue pine (Pinus wellichiana), Kail (Pinus excelcia), Pinus roxburgy, Deodar (Cedrus deodra), Silver fir (Abies webiana), Walnut (Juglans regia), Mulberry (Morus alba). Alpine pastures immediately follow the tree line ending with Birch (Betula utilis) between 3200 to 3600m, the alpine vegetation is largely comprised of herbs and shrub species like junipers and rhododendrons, the vegetation is scarce between 3600-4100m. The fauna of Kashmir includes wild goats like Markhor and Ibex, antelopes like Chhiru, deer’s like Hangul or Kashmir Stag, Musk Deer, Spotted Deer, Shapoo, Black Bears, Leopards, Wolf, Fox, Monkeys and the birds like Western Tragopon, Himalayan Monal Pheasant etc.

As such the human-wild animal conflict is not a new phenomena occurring globally, in Kashmir too this conflict is witnessed as a historical one. But this human-animal conflict has certainly escalated in the past two decades. Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and common leopard (Panthra pardus fusca) are frequently in encounters with the human being and livestock resulting in the loss of life and injuries, besides the loss of property and damage to agriculture and horticulture. The obvious reasons of these conflicts are mostly of human origin in nature i.e. loss in forest cover due to wanton deforestation and loot of the green gold, change in land use pattern, human interference and presence of armed forces inside the forests and wildlife habitats, stone quarrying and mine blasting near the forest areas, forest fires, ban on grazing of livestock in high altitude pasture by the armed forces and natural factors like increase in the wild life populations, decline in the natural prey base, change in the predator behavior due to easy excess of the stray dogs, global warming and climate change.

Against more than 50% of the very dense forests in 1950’s, presently only 30% remains under dense forest cover in Kashmir with a big proportion of the forests as bare and denuded. The Forest Survey of India, however, indicates that total forest cover in Jammu and Kashmir has undergone a little change. There has been in fact a marginal (1.85%) increase since 1987; however, the dense forest cover has declined by 19% approximately but the open forest cover has undergone about 36% up during 1987-2003. Major problems identified in the loss of forest cover are of economic in nature besides the unplanned developmental works. Forest fires have been instrumental in reducing the forest cover. Most of the forest fires have been alleged to be the result of a deep rooted nexus between smugglers and some forest officials with sole aim of eliminating evidences after wanton plunder. The presence of armed forces in the forests and wildlife habitats is not only altering the movement of wild animals but is posing a serious threat to their survival. Ban on high altitude gazing pastures by the armed forces has resulted in the scarcity of prey to wildlife species as the shepherds and nomads are unable to carry their livestock to such grazing pastures.

Trans-LOC movement of the wild animals is greatly hampered due to barbed electrified fencing along the Line of Control resulting in the confiscation of these animals at various places and impeding their movement to the adjoining natural habitats like Gilgit, Iskardu, Hunza, Chitral, Chilas and the In Kashmir valley over a period of time, the wildlife has been managed exclusively for the game purpose and accordingly rules were framed to protect the wild life species. The Jammu and Kashmir Department of Wildlife Protection (DWLP) came into existence in 1982 and evolved from the erstwhile Game Preservation Department, with the specific aim of the wildlife protection and promotion of their natural habitats besides avoiding the conflicts. Out of its total geographical area of 15948 sq. km, Kashmir valley accounts for 50.96% (8128 sq. km.) territorial forest area and the wildlife habitat or Protected Area Network (PAN) accounts for 10.53% (1680 sq. km.) currently managed by the DWLP. This Protected Area Network (PAN) includes 02 National Parks, 07 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 13 Wildlife Conservation Reserves and 08 Wetland reserves. But, presently the Department of Wildlife Protection lacks the adequate infrastructure, trained and well equipped manpower and required transport facilities.

The DWLP, however, has recently signed a MOU with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to impart and assist various wildlife management issues like mitigation of human-wild animal conflict, Markhor conservation, execution of Hangul recovery plan, rescue and rehabilitation of displaced wildlife species, capacity building and training in legal and wildlife crime issues to frontline staff of the Wildlife Department. Although WTI has come out with various key recommendations like the augmentation of infrastructure and manpower, habitat improvement and restoration, awareness generation, establishment of monitoring and evaluation system, decision making during the conflict situations, establishment of a central mitigation command center and rapid response teams to mitigate the human- wild animal conflict and translocation of the confiscated animals. A recently submitted Comprehensive Management Action Plan (CMAP) on Wullar Lake to the Department of Wildlife Protection by the Wetlands International South Asia (WISA) envisages the establishment of wildlife sanctuary within the Wullar Catchments in Bandipore forests being the summer habitat of Hangul and to create a full-fledged high altitude breeding center for the highly rare and threatened wildlife species within the premises of Kashmir Forest Training Institute, Chittarnar, Bandipore for their restocking and rehabilitation.

Other conservation measures like strengthening of existing PAN, installation of sophisticated cameras to sight the wild animal movement and capture traps along the vulnerable forest areas in close proximity to human habitations tranquilizer guns and related accessories, translocation and rehabilitation of the confiscated animals on modern scientific lines and strengthening coordination among the frontline territorial forest and wildlife staff along with the local communities, police and the civil administration besides immediate medicare and compensation without any prior documentation to the conflict victims need to be adopted for timely consideration at the gross root level.

Although Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a special status of its own Wildlife (Protection) Act 1978 amended in 2002, but to its dismay J&K is a unique state violating its own constitution and laws. Here forests are bestowed to the armed forces to denude the forests and disturb the wild animals, timber smugglers are nourished through nexus between the forest officials even top brass forest officers have been found culpable in the forest plunder and vanishing the wildlife habitat. National Parks are turned into the guest/ health resorts to appease the ‘Ruling Masters’. Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserves are ascended to ‘Golf Courses’ to exhibit the ostentatious “Imperial Glory”. Protected Area Network gets exploited and so-called tourism development jeopardizing the Ecological Interest. Here short term economic benefits aimed at the revenue centric approaches are adopted without realizing their long term ecological implications.

To save our rich Biodiversity and Wildlife a firm political resolve aimed at the basics of ‘Conservation’ rather than ‘Exploitation’ , is the need of hour. Obliteration of Wildlife Habitat and decline in Forests cover will certainly cause Disappearance of the Wildlife.

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