The Valley’s Vanishing Green Belt
The most extensively used words these days are climate, change
The weather in most parts of the world has been behaving in a strange way. Some places are getting extremely hot while in some places the weather is colder than usual for this part of the year. In our subcontinent in many places the temperature has crossed 5o degrees.
There are many factors driving this drastic climate change but the most talked about is the emission of harmful gases from automobiles, power plants and other similar industries. Apart from the fact of an astronomical increase in fossil fuel emissions, the other major contributing factor has been the rapid vanishing of green cover all over the world – due to so called ‘development’.
These forests and jungles had been absorbing greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, and were purifying the air. It is estimated that the greening of a small part of the Sahara desert in Africa could absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide. The Chinese have already gone ahead with converting some of their desert areas into green belts.
We, on the other hand, are busy converting our green belts into barren land which may ultimately turn into deserts!
We have virtually massacred our lush green forests in many places. According to the forest policy of India 33% of the total area of every region in the plains and 60% in the Himalayan region must be under forest cover, but unfortunately the forest area in India is no more than 22%.
Similarly, satellite imagery tells us that forests cover no more than 10% of the total area of Jammu and Kashmir. Over 14,000 hectares of forest land have been encroached upon in the state as per a survey conducted in 2010.
Forest department records show similarly that 9,496 hectares of forest land in the Jammu region and 4,877 hectares in the Kashmir valley have been encroached upon, out of a total forest area of 20,230 square kilometres.
This area was largely distributed in the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region. Leh and Kargil are mostly devoid of forest vegetation.
In addition to deliberate deforestation by timber smugglers, some government agencies and even people who live by the forests, the green belt has further been damaged by the largescale conversion of agricultural land into construction sites for private homes, residential colonies, shopping complexes and even some state government offices, including one responsible for the state’s planned development.
There are no two opinions that agriculture is the primary economic activity in Kashmir. Almost 75% of the people here are linked with agriculture. In fact, in earlier times Kashmir was self-sufficient in food and vegetables but no longer – the bulk of our foodgrains and vegetables are now imported from elsewhere.
The government departments responsible for protecting land use are totally silent, or rather intentionally mum for certain considerations, both monetary and political. Under the revenue rules, a piece of agricultural land should have been unproductive for at least 40 years before it can be declared unusable for agriculture and put to some other use. This rule seems to have disappeared from the revenue department rule book!
In 2012, the J&K High Court directed all Deputy Commissioners to strictly ensure the implementation of the Agricultural and Land Revenue Acts. The concerned commissioners were directed to monitor the implementation of these directions on the ground. Unfortunately, nothing was done and violations of both laws continue unabated.
Incidentally, our ancestors left for us a land which was described by Mughal emperors as Paradise on Earth. If Kashmir is to survive as such, then its green belt must be saved.
The government alone cannot do it. One has to have a strong and universal movement involving all the citizens to save Kashmir’s green belt. The movement must involve the entire society, regardless of political beliefs or affiliations. If Kashmir’s environment goes, it is immaterial what political or physical setup it has in future.
The unusual weather being experienced is giving us a warning. If we do not heed the warning and act now, we are doomed! We will be leaving behind a hell for future generations.