Development confronts deforestration

By UZAIR QADRI

I’m struck with a sort of contradictory nostalgia as I bask in the spring air of Kashmir for the first time after years of staying outside the valley. Though it does give me a sense of strangeness but I know the air is the same I used to breathe before. The same fragrance is about to set in and the memories of my life in the valley strike me again.
Though the pollution levels are still very meager here, the materialism compounded by the havoc rendered by the flood of 2014 is starkly obvious. In schools here and outside there is a lot of emphasis being placed on words like environment, foodchain, sustainability, pollution and all the related jargon. I am of the firm opinion that the line by Nund Resh, our sagacious poet “an posh teli yeli wan poshi” (availability of food is subservient to forests) is still used in the school curriculum essays as a snippet of advice from our fabled past.
But there is a real chasm between what is written and what is practiced. In the push towards mindless urbanisation, the ultimate victims are the forests which not so long ago were close to where are major towns are today. In fact the nomenclature of very many villages is an indicator of how much our basic existence has had its entwining with the forests.
Not more than 20 kilometers from Srinagar in the Pulwama district we have wur’wan (wan means forest). We have guur’wan in the midst of Bijbehara town. But today those forests are nowhere to be seen near to these habitations. They have retreated to the positions where their existence has become severely precarious and the life giving services they provide have become extraordinarily expensive.
Travel to any such health resort, like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Mughal road, Cheshma Shahi etc, the forests have been molested beyond measure. Of course it is naive to believe that there isn’t going to be any forward movement in time of humans and their footprint will not increase. Development, spatio-temporally, is the law of nature. We can’t afford to be arrested in time. But there is also a necessity to put a stop to this mindlessness where mafia thrive on the lot of poor communitarian resources like the forests.
Since the pressures of anthropogenic destruction of nature are at an ever high, the rate of destruction all around the world, it is all too necessary for Kashmiris to understand that steps must be taken to slow down the process the process as much as possible. This can be done by making our dependence on forests more sustainable and less abrasive.
This requires a certain degree of self-control coupled with efficient regulatory mechanisms in place that can break the back of any environment-adverse activity. The flood of 2014 is a gruesome reminder of how we had with our own hands created a recipe for disaster over time. (In a religiously conservative place with layers of hypocrisy embedded, there may be references to misogyny, usury etc for the same, the essential requirement is to understand what lies at the base of it all).
Today we have increasing incidents of wild animals coming into the human habitations. Just a few days ago, a poor leopard being chased in Shopian. As I am writing these lines, there is this news of seven men being injured by a wild cat in Bemina! What can be the reason for it? That isn’t any rocket science. The indiscriminate habitat destruction! Just for this notorious “development”.
The ritual of plantation on the 21st of March goes on every year with unabashed abandon in some educational institutes and different government departments. The reality is that we don’t care a fig about our wealth: wealth which is true wealth to us, spiritually as well as materially. This is a result of poor, very poor, awareness about the necessity of forests to us and other animals, and the callous attitude of the government machinery towards the protection of forests.
At many a place, one is prompted to suspect that the humongous scale of destruction of forests couldn’t have been possible without the active connivance of the people at the helm of affairs.
Therefore, afforestation at a mass level with a proper dissemination of information in a multi-tier fashion can be a way forward. Develop but why not do it sustainably. In this process, certain things are beyond our control in the geo-political situation we are confronted with, but why not do our bit!
—The writer can be reached at:
mohammeduzair27@gmail.com

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