Timber trafficking is an increasingly common practice in Kashmir Valley, which threatens the region’s forests. Nearly 1 lakh cubic feet of wood is smuggled out of the Kashmir valley every year could turn Kashmir into Ladakh in the next 40-50 years.
“Climate change indicators are quite strong and clear in the region and have impacted snow and glacier resources in the upper Indus,” glaciologist and author of several studies on glaciers in the Himalayan region and vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Kashmir, said Shakil Ahmad Romshoo.
Climate Change threatens Kashmir, In a 2012 interview, Kashmiri Scientist Dr Nazir Ahmad Masood said that “almost 1 lakh cubic feet of timber is smuggled from Kashmir valley every year, leading to the illegal felling of almost 10,000 adult coniferous trees in the Kashmir valley which could turn Kashmir into Ladakh in the next 40-50 years”.
“almost 1 lakh cubic feet of timber is smuggled from Kashmir valley every year, leading to the illegal felling of almost 10,000 adult coniferous trees in the Kashmir valley which could turn Kashmir into Ladakh in the next 40-50 years”.
-Dr Nazir Ahmad Masood, Kashmiri Scientist
The Forest Department has tried to create effective mechanisms to protect trees. “At least 50 to 80 smugglers are operating in our forest area,” said Mohammad Ramzan, a resident of Kupwara. “Hundreds of horses carrying wood leave the area every day.”
Nazir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir forestry employees union, said more than 320 colleagues were injured during the closure by smugglers attacking them with their hands or sticks. “Forest guards and officers are the most affected when it comes to protecting forests,” Ahmad said.
Much of the damage to Kashmir’s forests has been caused by years of intense armed conflict for more than a decade since 1990. Official data from the Jammu and Kashmir forest departments show that 79 forestry officials, including one defender, died trying to protect forest resources, while more than 150 forest buildings were destroyed in an armed conflict.
However, since 2003, when the conflict began to improve, thousands of cases have been filed against timber smugglers, including hundreds of smugglers involved under the Public Safety Act, a law that allows a person to be detained for up to two years without any court. For example, from 2014 to 2017, the forest administration registered as many as 1,301 cases against 4,206 perpetrators in police departments and courts.
Forestry officials said the law allowed more people to be booked, but the department lacked human resources. The forest administration still lacks 575 officials, including, according to official figures, 399 forest rangers and 153 foresters. Some forestry officials have been charged with corruption for smuggling timber from various parts of Kashmir.
In the report, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General said encroachment on forest land for other uses had increased by 88 per cent between 2003 and 2012. During that time, 6,281 hectares of forest land were diverted for other uses “with no arrangements.” alternatives for afforestation” or replant trees elsewhere, according to the report.
The total forest area of Jammu and Kashmir, according to the work plans, is 7,810 square miles, with a distribution by region: Kashmir 3,138 square miles, Jammu 4,659 square miles and Ladakh 13.8 square miles.
Forests played an important role in the state’s economy, as it gave rise to various independent industries; Eco-tourism, turpentine and resin industry, Kashmiri willow industry, carpentry, masonry and other industries and wood-based pharmaceuticals. Not so long ago, Jammu and Kashmir had the credit of being one of the most forested areas in the world.
Timber smuggling, although not a new phenomenon, has witnessed a breakthrough since 1989, when terrorism began, due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to effectively combat smugglers due to the great danger in and around forests. Due to the ongoing riots, the police and forest guards are unable to protect the forests, and smugglers continue to plunder.
In 1996, a forest protection group was formed, which continues to remain unarmed. The security forces have not yet received a weapons permit, which makes it difficult for unarmed members of the group to protect forests from armed smugglers. There have been many cases of vandalism, despite the presence of forest protection personnel.
Wildlife that has deterred timber smuggling is rapidly declining across the Valley as smugglers deliberately set it on fire to destroy evidence of their crime.
Since 1989, the Kashmir Valley has lost more than 59 square miles of 7,810 square miles of forest cover, stripping the land of old-grown forest leaves and exposing it to heavy rainfall, causing water to run down hills. and erodes loose soil that eventually flows into rivers and lakes.
In addition, deforestation and mismanagement of water resources have also caused soil erosion, leading to frequent flash floods in the country. About 8% of the region is prone to floods. In 33 years, from 1973 to 2006, there were 13 floods with a frequency of only 2.5 years and average annual damage of more than $ 15.6 million.
According to officials from the state Forestry Department, almost 60-70% of the forest cleared in the last decade was cleared to make room for infrastructure development projects.
Other government reports have said that legal requirements that cut areas be replaced with tree planting have failed because departments are understaffed, equipped and resourced.
The State Forest Conservation Law of 1997 requires that any forest area diverted to other uses be replaced with twice that area of reforestation on degraded land.
Nadeem Qadri, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law, an independent non-profit research center, says Kashmir needs to be especially wary of climate change.
“Glacier melting is an open and clear sign of climate change for all of us around the world,” said Kadiri. “We need to be more responsible because Kashmir is one of the most environmentally fragile areas not only in India but also in Central Asia. Deforestation, melting glaciers, and drying of wetlands – all points to the problem of climate change.
“You may notice improper forest management in the northern states of India through the Indian Forest Act of 1927,” Qadri said. “You can get permission to build the dam by e-mail during the day. The act does not assess the impact on the environment, which means a catastrophe for forests. New laws encourage the smuggling of timber after August 5, and forest offences have increased in Jammu and Kashmir, where green gold is being stolen with impunity.
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