BUDGAM: The picturesque meadow of Tosamaidan in central Kashmir’s Budgam district and the vast forest surrounding it have, with the passage of time, turned into what could be called a ‘graveyard of forests’.
The forests of these areas are dying a silent death due to deforestation caused by timber smugglers both in the past and, to some extent, in the present as well.
Tosamaidan, which is also known as the King of Meadows, is located in the Valley’s Pir Panjal range. Its great meadows are cloistered by snow-capped mountains and streams meandering through vast swathes of lush green land. It is not only famous as a pasture but has its own historical importance as well.
Today, however, the sight Tosamaidan presents the visitor is starkly, horrifyingly different. Wherever the eye goes, all it falls upon is acre after acre of chopped trunks, half-cut trees and decayed logs.
Locals living in the foothills of the meadow can only recount memories of when it was full of forests that covered the meadows till the foothills.
But after the rise of militancy in Kashmir, the situation changed abruptly, and the trees were chopped down rapidly by smugglers. Army too chopped down trees as militants after attacking government forces would disappear taking advantage of dense forests. The area was comsidered as the hotbed of militancy during 90’s.
“In order to reduce the increasing number of attacks, the army chopped down countless trees around the camps,” Shabir Ahmad, a local resident said.
“I had been taken by forces several times to help in chopping down the trees in the meadow, he added”
Hacked down, the rotted and decayed trees are lying all around the meadows even until date.
Firdous Ahmad Bhat, a local resident, said that there used to be dense forests here two decades before, but today there are hardly any trees left.
“Everything was alright before the armed conflict started in 1989 in Kashmir. Even the shepherds from neighbouring countries also used to visit in ancient times, and the Mughals used this route to travel to Poonch in Jammu,” he said.
“But a trip to the meadow gives a dismal look of deforestation due to tree felling by timber smugglers over the years,” he said. “Now look at those denuded areas of Krala Sangri, Pareezapan, Zampather, Damdam etc. Everywhere you will find trees fallen and deteriorated in the meadow,” Bhat added.
He continued, “I remember, everyday timber was loaded upon hundreds of horses for carrying it to saw mills in far-off areas. Even the army officers would take their share of the loot when the smugglers would come in contact with them.
“The army porters, smugglers and the forest department employees were hand in glove in carrying out the mass deforestation in the area with the consent of the army officials,” he alleged.
“I was in my twenties when, in the 1960s, the army decided to use this large, lush, green meadow for firing practices and drills,” said another local who identifies himself as Shabir Ahmad.
“To carry out this activity, an agreement was made between the state government and the Ministry of Defence wherein over three thousand kanals of forest land was leased out to the army.
“The firing drills in the area began after that. Even ammunition from the Bofors gun was fired from Hard-e-Panzu areas towards the Tosamaidan meadow in summer months,” Shabir added.
“During the summer months, the whole area of Tosamaidan and its adjoining villages look like a war zone as one can hear continuous blasting sounds throughout the day.”
A team of scientists working at the Centre for Climate Change and Mountain Agriculture, SKUAST, Kashmir, who visited here to carry out a detailed report said that almost 40-50 percent of the forests have been devastated by timber smuggling and illegal extraction of firewood.
District Forest Officer, Budgam, Mohammad Rafique while talking to this reporter admitted the desolation that has been visited upon the meadow.
“I admit that it has turned into the graveyard of forests,” he said adding “It was 20 years ago when the militancy was at its peak, the attacks on forces at the said forest was a routine, so in order to bring respite from the deadly attacks, they chopped down many trees”.
Rafique also blamed militants for having their hand in carrying out the deforestation in the forests in past.