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Tuesday, October 23, 2001

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Flora and fauna of Kashmir

FORESTS OF KASHMIR — A Vision For The Future: M.A. Kawosa; Nataraj Publishers, 17, Rajpur Road, Dehradun-248001. Rs. 550.

GONE ARE the days when Kashmir was hailed as the "Switzerland of Asia." Today, the black snow in the valley, the acid rains in the Jammu plains, the reddening of the Dal Lake waters, the vanishing temperate forest ecosystems with their characteristic wildlife and many more such irreversible environmental tragedies are reflected in the escalating impoverishment of the life of the poor inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir.Out of a total population of 5.5 million, 79 per cent are forest-dependent rural poor, but against the optimum 66 per cent of land, under forest cover recommended for hilly areas, only 17 per cent is forest in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus, forest tourism and trekking, the main sources of income for the State, are lost forever. Therefore, the author, the Chief Conservator of Forests in Jammu and Kashmir and an ecologist, pleads for a new and specific forest policy to restore and conserve the rare forest types, forest wealth and wildlife of Jammu and Kashmir.

First of all, the author traces the genesis of various National Forest policies of 1894, 1928, 1952, 1976 and 1988, pinpointing on their lacunae. Then, the history of forests in Jammu and Kashmir is reviewed, starting with the Moghul contribution to forest conservation, followed by the British contribution, focusing however, on the absence of a forest policy that is specific to the unique terrain, climate, wildlife and people of Jammu and Kashmir.

With the introduction of the State Forest Corporation (SFC) during the early 1980s, the ruthless felling of forests was brought under check and the regeneration aspects of forests was brought to light and given priority. The first forest policy for Jammu and Kashmir was approved only in 1990. However, the militant activities since the 1990s were a new threat to the forests, but the Forest Protection Force and the periodic intervention of the Supreme Court of India, have been the major saving powers for the Jammu and Kashmir forests.

Although the National Forest Policy of 1988 has been the basis for the current forest management in Jammu and Kashmir also, as in all other States, yet the specific clauses relevant to the Jammu and Kashmir forests are to be supplemented and therefore, a draft new forest policy for 2000 for Jammu and Kashmir is proposed herein, with bibliography to the supporting background literature.

Some of the areas focused in the new draft policy are the extraction of timber, fuel wood and fodder, management of watersheds, eco-tourism, capacity-building through training in forestry, research, biodiversity conservation, planting of minor forest produce (MFP) trees, and non-conventional energy trees, joint forest management (JFM) and women's participation in it, leasing out degraded forest lands to industry for reforesting, environmental management and pollution control, all with a focus on the specific Jammu and Kashmir predicaments. Fifteen addenda at the end of the book, inclusive of the various National Forest Policies, special articles and circulars of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department are supporting documents for the new forest policy proposed herein for Jammu and Kashmir.

P. J. SANJEEVA RAJ

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