Mismanaged forest wealth
That there is wanton loot and plunder of the state’s forest wealth is common knowledge – so much so that every inhabitant of this God-forsaken lad is aware of it. It would be only wondrous to believe that those heading the Forest department are unaware. Indeed they are the ones who know it better than anybody else, but given their own complicity in the murky business, they prefer talking only in terms of whooping figures that are actually earmarked and spent on what is officially called “safeguarding” the forest wealth.
At one point in time more than 80 percent of the state’s entire territory was under the forest cover and lumbering was one of the major economic activities. Indeed this was the time when forest products contributed a whole lot to the state’s economy. But owing to both governmental neglect as well as official incompetence, which couldn’t regulate and manage forestry on scientific lines, the entire activity of lumbering was closed down for good.
Then as the population continued to grow and so did the demand for more houses and hence more timber, the Forest department and its subsidiaries failed to live up to this demand, which automatically gave rise to a culture of loot in the form of timber smuggling which continues without any respite. While the rampage of petty smugglers continues without any fear of punitive reprisals, the connivance and patronage of Forest department employees including its officials steadily gave birth to a very powerful timber mafia. Today less than 50 percent of the territory is under the forests and almost entire 100 percent of this forest area is under the smugglers’ axe. And the Forest department officials and employees are only spectators at best and active collaborators at its worst. But nobody talks about this criminal nexus.
Indeed what could be more sad a commentary on the poor state of affairs than the fact that Jammu and Kashmir does not have any Forest Policy worth even a name. Had there been one, then somebody would have bothered to question why has the Forest department itself grown into a sort of white elephant, which instead of contributing to the state’s economy is only draining it like a parasite.
As of now hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of construction-grade (A-grade) timber is rotting in various official depots and several times more is rotting inside the forests, but there is nobody who is bothered about it. While the common people are thirsting for timber, the inertia-ridden and corruption-infested Forest department is doing nothing to supply it to them. It defies common sense that the department is letting the timber to rot but is not selling the same to the needy which would not only have contributed big revenue to the state exchequer but would have also brought down the demand for timber, thus discouraging the timber smuggling in turn. But then it makes perfect sense that as long as the supply of timber is kept low, its demand would remain high, and timber smuggling a lucrative business. And as long as smuggling continues, the share of sleazy money would continue pouring into the corrupt Forest officials’ pockets. This is simple economics and doesn’t require an Einstein to understand it.
Another worrisome factor of our forests and particularly their management is tapping the vast potential of what is in official jargon called “minor forest products” or MFP. This MFP which includes hundreds of herbs and medicinal plants are a huge resource just waiting proper exploitation. This is not to say that it are not exploited – certainly it is, but in the most disorganized and shady way. Here again this huge resource worth millions has been left to either rot in the forests or has been given for virtual peanuts to a few people who are in this trade. So far nothing worthwhile has been done to tap this huge wealth, and one is hard at understanding why has there been a deliberate neglect of this important resource. At a time when economics seems to have become a political buzzword for the government, one is really hard at understanding why is forest wealth -- which if managed properly has a huge potential to draw this state from many of its perennial economic ills – not been accorded the kind of importance it merits. May be the big IFS ‘babus’ who are growing fat by the day in Kashmir, courtesy the ill-gotten money they earn as here as their ‘cut’ or ‘commissions’, have answers to some of these important questions!