Shrinking forests of Jammu and Kashmir

Prof. (Dr) R.D. Gupta
Not so long Jammu and Kashmir had the credit of being one of the thickly forested areas of the country rather the world. Its forests were an abode of some of the rare wildlife species, consisting both of animals and birds including Kashmir stag or Hangul, the Tibetan Antelope or chiru, the Tiger (Cheeta), Leopard, Black and Brown Bears, Markhor, Blue sheep (Bharal), Hog Deer, Wild Goat (Jangli bakri) Wild cow (Neel gai), the Himalayan Golden Eagle, the Bearded Vulture, common Teal, Patridge, Porcupine, Quail, Sparrow, Peacock etc. The reptiles of Siwalik hills of Jammu were more or less akin to the rest of the northern India and exhibited their wide variety. The lizards found in the region belonged to the species of moniter lizard (Varanus spp), the garden lizard (Calotes versicolar) and common wall lizard (Hemidactylus spp). Among the various snakes of the area besides harmless race snakes, water snakes and blind snakes which consist of poisonous snakes like cobra, russel’s viper and Krait were also found. But unfortunately the picture has slowly changed. It is because, the forests of Jammu and Kashmir like other parts of the country, are under tremendous Biotic pressure. Almost 7,000 Km2 area has become degraded out of total 20230 Km2 forest area (Wani, 2006) which constituted nearly 20 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. It is worthwhile to mention that in Jammu and Kashmir, the forests are largely distributed in Kashmir province and Jammu region. Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, consisting of two districts namely Leh and Kargil, is mostly devoid of forest vegetation as the area of the region lies under cold arid climate.
Another reason of the speedy degradation / shrinking of forest is mafia eating up state, forest land. The state in general and the Jammu region in particular are reeling under the threat of land mafia as every now and then incidents of illegal land encroachments, mostly of forest lands are coming to fore (Suthra, 2012). Out of the existing forest cover, about 14359 ha of forest land has been encroached upon by land mafia (Sharma, 2012). The forests under encroachment in the Kashmir and Jammu region are 4877 ha and 9482 ha, respectively. It is point to mention that the land mafia always exploit the Schedule Tribes community to substantiate their malicious designs. As a matter of fact, they (Land Mafia) always exploit innocent tribes ( Gujjars, Bakarwals) for illegally encroaching upon the forest lands nearby the National Highway. “The area of Mohmaya forest along the National Highway (Via Kunjwani to Sidhra) is prone to encroachment and dumping of wastes which, therefore, requires fencing immediately”. This has been stated by the Conservator Forest Division,  Suresh Gupta.
Conversion of forest land into agricultural land on a large scale is yet another factor  responsible for shrinking forest. Conversion of forest land for agricultural use on a large scale has significantly shrunk the forest cover in the sub-mountainous tract of Siwaliks, which is commonly known as Kandi belt. The massive land conversion of Kandi belt of Jammu is being resorted here in violation of the Indian Forest Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Preservation Act allegedly in connivance with the foresters. Moreover, illegal felling of trees on a large scale and construction of sprawling farmhouses is being done in violation of the norms.
During the reign of Dogra rulers, the Siwaliks of Jammu were very famous for scrub forests especially Khair (Acacia catechu) wood forests which constituted potential reserves in the Jammu region. However, in just 68 years since independence the desert like situations have appeared in the Siwalik hills of Jammu. It is because Khair trees have been over exploited for extraction of catechu-katha and as a result this species has now become endangered like the Siwaliks of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand. Phulia (Acacia modesta) and Kikar, which are considered the best species among Acacia for obtaining edible gum and their branches, are also lopped for tooth brush. As a result, these species are shrinking.. If these species are not preserved, they will be no longer available in the near future for the posterity.  Acacia species, Harar (Terminalia chebula), Bahera (Terminalia belerica) and Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) are the other trees which are being felled ruthlessly for using in Ayurveda for preparing Trifla. As a consequence, these tree species have been declared as nearing to extinction. Another species commonly known as Jand (Prosopis spicigera) has almost become extinct from Jammu Siwalik Hills due to its over exploitation as its wood is used in a number of religious ceremonies. Moreover, the persons afflicted with chronic fever also utilize its dried pieces of branches to get relief from the fever. Not only the Trikuta Hills, an Abode of the Goddess Mata Vaishno, had this, turned naked due to unabated construction work being undertaken in the area to promote religious tourism.
Continuous increased demand of the basic needs like food, fodder, fire and timber of the ever looming population of human beings and livestock is another reason for shrinking of the forest cover as more and more its trees are cut.
In Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, Doda, Ramban and Kishtwar districts, the grasslands are limited and liverstock have to feed on forest vegetation. Similar is the situation with Kandi belt of Jammu the camels and goats have done a lot of damage to grass land species and various forest tree and bushy species.
Strategies:
Guarding the green blanket: As a large and expanding human, and live stock population accompanied with large scale poverty exert unrelenting pressure on forests, so in view of severe degradation of Jammu and Kashmir forest resources, the Government should attempt to cut down losses to its forests and increase tree cover through a series of programmes. Such programmes comprise mainly of social forestry, joint forest management and community forest management.
Impose a complete ban on felling of trees: To cut down losses of forest cover, a complete ban on cutting of trees from Siwaliks of Jammu to Pir Panjal both in Jammu and Kashmir is required to impose at least 10-15 years. This will assist in protecting and preserving whichever forest cover is left for the coming generation. It will also prevent advances of deserts and give large support to agriculture, animal and sheep husbandry. Vegetative cover will keep the area moist, cool and maintain climate equilibrium.
Cultivate suitable tree species: The systemic cultivation of suitable tree species for reclamation of waste lands is the dire need of Siwaliks. For this purpose, local tree species viz. Aeacia nitolica, A.catechu, A.modesta, Dalbrgia sisso, Butea monosperma, Grewia optiva, Cassia fistula, Toona ciliate, etc, are required to be planted. These species being indigenous are hardy and as such can survive under adverse conditions too.
Afforestation: Afforestation of ravines and denuded hill sides would assist to check soil erosion and floods. But it is going on at a slow pace inspite of having a number of projects funded by the World Bank and governments. While launching a massive programme of afforestation, it  should cover at least 10 per cent of the area annually and completing the whole of Jammu Siwaliks in 10-15 years.

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