Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) [India]: Not only humans, the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, didn’t spare even the natural beauty and resources of Jammu and Kashmir.
The erstwhile political regimes in the Himalayan region couldn’t do much to prevent the vandalisation of the forests, water bodies and other God-gifted natural resources as the rulers seemed least interested in doing so.
Soon after the armed insurgency broke out in J&K in the early nineties, most of the government departments entrusted with protecting natural resources, including forests and water bodies, became defunct due to the fear of gun-toting ultras, who were directed by their handlers to disrupt everything in J&K, especially in Kashmir.
Politicians who ruled J&K after 1996 paid little attention to building up any robust system that could protect the beauty of the Himalayan region from getting scarred.
Whenever the leaders were told that the natural resources of J&K are depleting and water bodies in the region are facing an extinction threat, they had only one answer: “We are helpless and are busy handling militants and separatists. Everything will be preserved after the Kashmir issue is resolved. New Delhi needs to talk to Pakistan and militant leadership to restore normalcy.”
On August 5, 2019, the dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi “bit the bullet” and revoked the so-called special status of J&K and divided it into two Union Territories. The Centre resolved the so-called “Kashmir issue” once and for all and shifted its focus on transforming J&K from a “separatist state” to a superstate.
Forest smugglers cornered
During the past two years, the government has laid special emphasis on protecting the natural resources in Jammu and Kashmir and has taken stringent action against the forest smugglers, who were looting the green gold without any fear of the law.
Soon after J&K was reorganised, the Jammu and Kashmir administration approached the Centre to seek amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 to include the provision of booking forest smugglers under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) — a law that allowed the detention of accused without trial for up to two years.
The helmsmen had assessed that timber smuggling is a major threat and needs to be tackled. The PSA had got scrapped after the J&K Reorganization Act had come into effect in October 2019. The Indian Forest Act, which was extended to the Union Territory of J&K, did not have the provision for booking timber smugglers under the PSA.
The Centre gave its nod to the proposal moved by the J&K administration to book the accused under Public Safety Act.
In erstwhile J&K State, timber smugglers could be booked under PSA as the J&K Forest Act had the provision for it, but the politicians seemed least interested in acting tough against the timber smugglers.
After 2019, the administration, with the help of law enforcement agencies, launched a massive crackdown against the forest smugglers and went after them. Habitual offenders were booked under PSA for causing enormous damage to the forests in North, South and Central Kashmir.
Implementation of Forests Right Act
During the past two and half years, the J&K Government has been striving to create a fine balance between man and nature. The departments are working in synergy to create awareness about climate change, environmental conservation and efficient use of forests for prosperity and well-being of current and future generations.
The Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) is creating awareness about the important role of forests in climate change mitigation. The government departments, Panchayati Raj Institutions, and other non-government institutions are working at the grass-root level to protect forests.
These collective efforts have proved to be important steps towards participatory governance in managing natural resources in J&K.
The historic implementation of the Forest Rights Act in J&K has benefitted a large population of tribal people dependent on forests. This has ensured that the rights of traditional forest dwellers, who have been residing in nature’s lap for generations, are not infringed upon.
Focus on the revival of water bodies
Besides taking stringent action against the forest smugglers and involving the common man in protecting the forests, the government departments have come together to revive the natural water bodies in J&K.
The Rural Development Department and Panchayat members in the Kathua district have revived 152 ponds in the last year. 71 water bodies have been brought to life again in the Doda district.
In the Samba district, 148 water bodies, including some very old ponds which had become lifeless due to encroachment, have become existent. In the Ramban district, 70 water bodies are providing drinking water to the people.
Anantnag, known for its water springs for centuries, had almost lost all its springs after 1990, but 12 freshwater springs have been revived in the past year. In the Bandipora district, 12 Panchayats have formed committees to revive the dying water springs.
The district administration in the Bandipora district has removed 114 encroachments from the Jhelum River, helping these committees to achieve their goal. A total of 186 water springs and other water bodies were revived in Budgam.
All this has become possible due to the collective efforts of various departments and public representatives. In Budget 2021-22, the government earmarked a special grant of Rs 273 crore to rehabilitate Dal and Nageen lakes in Srinagar.
The present dispensation in J&K has been ensuring that the liberal funding provided by the Centre to restore the pristine glory of the Himalayan region is utilised to the maximum extent. The administration is working hard to conserve and protect invaluable natural resources in J&K.
Synergy between Admin, Wildlife Department
The Wildlife Department is working closely with the divisional administration in Jammu and Kashmir regions to protect various forms of flora and fauna, biodiversity, and wildlife sanctuaries.
Efforts are being put to ensure that the indiscriminate use of natural resources comes to an end. A clear cut policy has been framed for the conservation of forests, wildlife, and the environment.
In the past two years, the new initiatives have led to J&K’s total green cover going above 50% of the total area. To conserve and protect the wildlife, the government has notified 11.5 per cent of the total geographical area of J&K, which is much higher than the national average of 5.5 per cent.
All the government departments are working together to heal the bruises J&K’s natural resources suffered due to its onslaught during the past three decades from the other side of the Line of Control.
Slowly but surely, these scars are being treated. A common man is actively participating in the healing process and is putting in all his efforts to become a part of the process to build “Naya J&K.” (ANI)