Neglected medicinal plant sector

The State of Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with a diversity and an enviable treasure of medicinal plants which besides, having a potential of immense commercial gains, can throw enough employment opportunities besides lot many benefits for growers, cultivators, research scholars, those engaged in sales and promoting exports and the like. Particularly in Kashmir division , in its forests and hills, it is said that there used to be wonder plants which were used for hundreds of years to cure even such ailments which normally were classified as incurable. Just one historical instance of the serious ailment (probably of malignant nature) of the famous Kashmir King Zain-ul-Abidin known as “Budshah” (1418-70) was cured by a reputed local physician Shria Bhat after all treatments , most of them from some other countries, had failed to treat him. This reveals the importance and the utility of medicinal plants found and grown in the State which need to be fully tapped.
The knowledge about these high value plants and the traditional health care and treatment with them has been passing on from one generation to the other but in the course of time, the process getting diluted, disinterested and discouraged has dealt a serious blow to the future of these plants . However, the position though of much concern is still retrievable provided the Government and other associated agencies took keen interest to save, conserve and develop these plants, shrubs, trees etc with a zeal and the sense of the pride as these plants finding conducive environment, climate and associated factors are found and grown in this State. It is , at the outset, heartening to note that of late, some attention , though still not fully focussed , is paid by the Government and its concerned apparatus towards medicinal plant sector as to how could it be conserved, developed and sustained as an organised industry .
As per a rough estimate , at present, we have as many as 571 different kinds of those plants which are possessing high medicinal value though the fact is that many have gone extinct due to human neglect and cultivation thereof indirectly discouraged on account of stiff competition from “modern medicines” and though it is never too late to have those plants , after due research and analysis, again grown in the forests or medicinal plant farms, but a serious thinking is required . A database needs to be developed as to how many species of such plants we presently have, how many have gone rare and extinct, the value assessment or the endues of the products for therapeutic and commercial uses etc. Such information needs to be updated at regular intervals.
The question, however, is whether we have a well drafted State Medicinal Plant Policy , an outcome of a joint effort of experts, scientists, medical students and research scholars, conventional growers who have a family history of fully knowing such plants, different ancillary agencies etc. At present , we do not have one and discussing the issue on select events alone and presenting papers or organising a seminar or two would not be sufficient enough to give the required fillip to this sector which could rightly be classified as hitherto neglected . It is encouraging to learn that in a meeting recently convened in Srinagar chaired by Advisors to Governor, this issue has come up for consideration . What were the policies and how were they framed in other States should be studied which could be of much help in formulating our own State policy that would lay emphasis on each and every aspect of the issue and prove as a vision document to be followed to bring in the desired results.
State Medicinal Plant Board should not be left to ‘function’ in isolation unless other concerned agencies like Forest department, Finance and planning, Agricultural University (SKUAST) etc co-operate in the grand but challenging endeavour to ensure a turnaround in saving , conserving and developing these plants. Once the required support and periodic serious review and appraisal from the Government were on assured basis, all stake holders would get added encouragement and motivation to draw up an action plan and seriously pursue it to yield results.