Villagers pay dearly for converting forests into residential colonies

Villagers pay dearly for converting forests into residential colonies

Nayeem Rather   

Budgam: The slopes in Fraswad and Shalnand villages of Budgam district, where landslides wreaked havoc, were part of a dense forest four decades ago. The slopes, according to villagers were rendered barren by timber smugglers.
Landslides triggered by recent rains claimed sixteen lives in Laden village.
Seventy-year-old villager Abdul Kareem said, “I have lived here for a long time and I remember how these slopes were plundered. The villagers excavated the soil from the slopes and leveled the ground and converted the slopes into residential plots. And, see what price we have paid.”
Another villager said the houses on the slopes have a weak base because the trees that held the soil together are gone.
“The ground beneath our houses is sinking and our houses are shaking as the base is weak,” he said.
The divisional forest officer concerned said these areas had a thick forest cover a few decades ago and most of the houses have been built on the forest land illegally.
When asked why and how the forest department allowed the constructions, he said, “There is a nexus between forest officials and smugglers. The conflict in Kashmir during the past 25 years gave a free hand to smugglers.  They were patronized by the police, politicians and the militants.”
Head department of earth sciences at Kashmir University Dr Shakeel Ramshoo said people don’t take into consideration the precariousness of the place where they build houses.
Villages prone to landslides are situated on Karewas or on bare slopes, he said, while asking the government to take appropriate measures to prevent constructions in such areas. He also opposed wanton road construction in hilly areas, which he said rendered these places vulnerable to landslides.