The covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the nature in Kashmir valley. The statement may seem to be something strange but the fact is that many areas across the valley have been witnessing a wanton loot of the forests cover.
All this is happening as Kashmir valley particularly has been losing its forest cover at a very fast pace. Not only is a meaningless loot of the forest reserves going on but the government too is contributing its share.
Under the garb of development numerous projects have been cleared just to ensure that the projects involving forest land get approval and work on these projects is set in motion.
What has come to fore is that the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has cleared a record 125 projects involving diversion of forest land between August and October 2019.
The FAC which held its 117th meeting here before it had to shift to Chandigarh, the regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment, cleared 41 projects. This was the body’s last meeting before the forest clearance process gave a go ahead for the proposals.
Clearing forest land for developmental schemes in nothing new but the pace by which these projects are being cleared has set alarm bells ringing. If the records are anything to prove, then around 271 hectares of forest land has been diverted in the 117th meeting for various development projects, like laying transmission lines, construction of access points and drilling tube wells, besides other works.
The number of clearances given during the last three meetings of the FAC was greater than the total number of clearances awarded in 2018. In the eight meetings of the FAC held in 2018, the body approved forest clearance for 97 projects, against the 125 clearances approved in just three meetings since August last year.
Clearing forest land for developmental activities as such a fast pace has led to many speculations especially in the absence of the application of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the state.
Development is welcome, but the way the government is moving ahead it shows the intent behind the move. The government in such cases needs to tread on cautiously as the decisions are being taken at a time when there is a larger concern among the locals over withdrawal of the constitutional protection of various rights including special protection to the land rights.
Besides, the pace at which the forest cover is depleting has meant a severe impact on the environment. This includes seasonal changes in the region which also means that some concrete steps are needed that too immediately.
The way forest cover is depleting it should in the same way be increased as well. The government including various Non Governmental Organizations who are working at various levels need to draw out a comprehensive plan to set things back on track.