Among the many depredations Jammu and Kashmir has faced for over two decades, the loss of forest cover, though receiving scant attention, is among those with the potential to radically affect people’s lives for the worse. According to a news report last month, the state has lost 2,309 sq km of forests, three times the size of greater Srinagar, in a mere two years (2013-2014). With that scale of destruction, one would presume the situation has only worsened since. Given the severe consequences of such massive deforestation, there is a clear and pressing need for the administration as well as the society to wake up and seek to address the situation before the state is denuded to the point of barrenness.
The problem of vanishing forests is a global one; it is assuming alarming proportions in parts of the world like the Amazon Basin and Indonesia. In fact, reports say an estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year around the world. But at least, in other parts of the world, one hears of concerns being raised at the highest levels and attempts at conservation. It is important to remember that greed and rapaciousness is just one factor contributing to this loss. For centuries, as civilisation and populations expand, forests have been cleared for more housing, urbanisation and agriculture. In Jammu and Kashmir, as the report makes clear, forest cover has shrunk so alarmingly because of authorities’ deliberate neglect, a nexus between timber smugglers and officials, and a skewed idea of urban-based development. The state’s acute militarization, with its other attendant deleterious effects, has also played a role.
The pattern in J&K seems to be clear-cutting, where swathes are cleared of trees at one go, which experts have described as an apocalyptic phenomenon. Its impact on climate, natural weather patterns, animal and plant species, the water cycle, and in the pattern of run-off in rivers (studies have shown changes in latter lead to increased risk of flooding) can simply not be ignored. Would it take another cataclysmic event, like last year’s floods, for a collective awakening to what is being allowed be done to the state’s environment? ann poshi telli yelli vann poshi, Kashmir’s most revered saint said once. Have his words been forgotten?