There are so many other potential resources that could easily change the socio-economic profile of the state. But thus far successive governments have only talked wishfully about them, while practically not much has been done to harness these resources for economic welfare of the state. Certainly forests are no exception. Now for a place which has not been able to evolve a ‘forest policy’ worth even a name, talking about promoting forest-based industry seems out of place. But then it is also true that this is an area which holds a lot of promise.
Like so many other natural resources, forests, though renewable, take a long time to replenish naturally. For instance, the trees which yield timber and other products for commercial use, as also other forest produce, which form the backbone of any forest-based industry, have very slow recovery rate. So these resources are susceptible to depletion not only by over-use, but also if used in unscientific manner without due care taken for their rejuvenation and replenishment. It needs to be remembered that resources from a human use perspective are classified as renewable only so long as the rate of replenishment/recovery exceeds that of the rate of consumption. Now everyone knows that Jammu and Kashmir has no such mechanism as would ensure that the rate of replenishment of forests is more than that of the rate of consumption. Had it been so, then of course state would not have witnessed steady depletion of the forest cover, which has actually prompted the apex court to put a blanket ban on felling of trees, leave aside green felling only.
But it is not so in the developed countries, say USA, Canada and almost every Scandinavian country, where lumbering is a major occupation and forest-based industries contribute substantially to the national economies. The difference between them and us is that they have been able to exploit forests on scientific lines so much so that they have practically ensured that the rate of replenishment of their forests is more than that of the rate of their consumption. And unlike them, what have we done? We have ruthlessly trained axe on the forests without anyone bothering to think about the replenishment of the denuded cover. Thanks to the nature which itself has been taking care of these forests here, if it was left to the Forest department only, Jammu and Kashmir would have very long back turned into a veritable desert!
So when Forest minister talks about exploiting forests for economic purposes, his take-off point must be using his influence and imagination to put together a ‘Forest Policy’ for the state. This must be a blueprint on how to exploit forest resources without causing any damage to the forest cover. Scientific know-how and technology for the purpose is very much there, the need is to put together policy guidelines on how to go about it. If state can hire consultants for exploitation of other resources, there is no reason why the same should not be done for forests. It should certainly not be left to a coterie of few IFS babus, whose lack of concern and vision for the state, together with their absolute lack of creative foresight is the main reason for this state not to have been able to harness forest resources scientifically and adequately.
Here is a simple example to make the point. For years people in Valley have been ragged by the allergies caused by the cottony pollens that a particular specie of ‘Russain Poplars’ shed during early summers. Following a PIL in J&K High Court pleading for deliverance from the menace, the court has issued directions that these trees be chopped down so that people are no longer tormented by the allergic pollens. Ideally speaking, the Forest department should not have, in the first place, allowed plantation of this weird specie of poplars. And now that the direction has come from the court, the Forest department is again in slumber and not bothering to spell it out what should be the alternative specie(s) people could opt for as a replacement. This should probably explain the amount of unconcern the senior functionaries of the department have not only towards their mandated jobs, but also for this place and its people.
Now if we are told that the same very babus will create a scientific plan for promoting forest-based industry, common people are well within their right to shrug it off with a mocking taunt!