Launching the “Green J&K Drive” at Zabarwan hills Monday, Governor Satya Pal Malik said several people, who worked in the Forest department in the state, had accumulated millions of rupees by destroying forests here. "See the bungalows in Vasant Vihar or Maharani Bagh in Delhi of those who worked in the Forest department. I know several families who have made millions as they had the charge of forests. The forests of Jammu and Kashmir have been destroyed painfully,” he said.
This is a confession coming from the head of the state, telling us in no uncertain terms that the J&K’s forests have suffered immensely because of corruption in the Forest department and other subsidiaries. It is not only the state officials who have been involved in looting the forest wealth in J&K, but senior bureaucrats from the Indian Forest Service (IFS) who come and serve here have been equally ruthless in terms of promoting and patronizing corruption for their selfish ends. Most of these bureaucrats have minted so much money here that they cannot afford bungalows in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar or Maharani Bagh only but can own properties in the most expensive destinations and neighborhoods across the world.
Governor Malik may know only a few families who have made millions by the loot and plunder of green gold here, but the list of such unscrupulous people is so long that it is impossible for him or any other individual to count them. However, given the wherewithal that state’s usually have at its disposal, it should not be difficult for it to identify the people whose personal coffers have attracted gold during their postings in this God-forsaken land of unaccountability. Invested with a little bit of political will to correct such wrongs, the state can go against such white-collar robbers and hold them to account.
But the question is: will the state afford taking such a measure? If the answer is yes, then the Governor Malik’s confession, which is also an indictment of the Forest department for the wrongs perpetrated by it, is indeed a welcome development and merits appreciation. Otherwise, one can take it just as one of his off the cuff remarks which doesn’t really mean much. The choice is with the government.
Coming back to the Forest department -- in terms of the jurisdiction (the area it controls), this is certainly one of the biggest government departments in the entire state. For long forests have been gross earner as well, but now for the past several decades the department has not been able to take care of its own needs not to speak of earning revenue for the state. The authorities may counter saying that government does not look at forests as something that could or should generate revenue – its only concern is utility of the forests for environmental and ecological reasons. On the face this is a fair argument. But then it can also be argued that if the forests can generate wealth for forest officials (mind it besides other incentives, they are also paid fat pay packets on monthly basis for it), what is wrong in management of the forests for commercial purposes?
Fact of the matter is that the state lacks the ability and acumen to evolve with a modern and scientific forest policy wherein despite commercial forest activities state’s overall forest cover remains intact. If it can happen in Europe, Canada and America, there is no reason why similar models can’t be replicated here. But the unfortunate reality is that those manning his important organization have never really bothered to look and think beyond their greed and self-seeking urges.
Take this: J&K has a full-fledged university -- SKUAST – where forestry is taught as a regular mainstream discipline. When was it last time that SKUAST’s Department or Faculty of Forestry was involved in some kind of practical interactive-academic interlinking exercise with the Forest department? Like the Forest department, much of SKUAST activities have remained confined to securing the personal careers of those at the helm without any practical output that would benefit the state’s forests.
Numerous instances can be cited to point out such loopholes in the organizational make-up as well as working of both SKUAST and Forest department as also in their subsidiaries. Now that the Governor has hinted at one such grey area – i.e. corruption – let’s see what his administration does to address it. Once corruption is taken care of, other things will steadily fall in place of their own.