Rashid Paul

Experts denounce ‘myth’ of Russian poplars causing respiratory infections in Kashmir

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Praise economic and environmental benefits of this fast-growing tree specie

Srinagar, May 28: Russian poplars have a significant socio-economic significance for Kashmir and there is no evidence to suggest relationship between their cotton embedded seeds and influenza or respiratory infections, say experts.

“There is no study that proves that the seeds of Russian poplars do cause corona-like influenza or respiratory tract infections in Kashmir,” said Dr Khurshid Ahmad Dar, Professor Chest Medicine at Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar.

J&K administration citing a 2015 J&K High Court order had on April 02 (2020) ordered axing thousands of ‘Rusi’ (Russian) poplars to get rid of its pollen and prevent the people from influenza and other respiratory-tract infections believed to be caused by it.

The order (now stayed by a division bench) stated that the pollen may cause “influenza/respiratory tract-like infections”, which could hamper efforts to prevent Covid-19.

The medical and forest experts however say that there is no scientific evidence suggesting Russian poplars being the agents or carriers of any corona-like pulmonary infections.

“Currently it is the flowering time for thousands of species of plants and trees in Kashmir. There are billions of invisible pollen and seeds in the air. But presuming that Rusi poplars breed the upper respiratory tract or COVID 19 like symptoms is unscientific,” said Dr Dar, the interventional pulmonologist. “The tree may though cause seasonal allergies in some people,” he added.

Dr Firdose Manzoor, Consultant in Chest Medicine at GMC Srinagar validating Dr Dar said “there is no reliable study which indicates that Russian poplars cause corona-like symptoms. Allergens are present in a variety of plant populations in every geographical area, but you can not single out a particular species without research.”

Citing the extraordinary economic and environmental value of Russian poplars in Kashmir, Prof. Tariq Masoodi, Dean Faculty of Forestry at Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) Kashmir said “it is a  is a myth that they (Russian poplars) have any link with the growing allergic disorders in valley.”

It is the female tree that produces the seeds which are carried in white cotton like flakes. The males produce the pollen grains but their population is just two to three percent of the species, he said.

Prof. Masoodi said the neighboring state of Punjab has 25 million Russian poplars that help run its network of plywood enterprises.

“Kashmir has only 15 million of this fastest growing species of poplars. Their felling will set in an economic and environmental disaster for the region,” he said.

“The tree provides durable packaging boxes for the multibillion rupee fruit industry besides the raw material for its 150 plywood manufacturing units,” said Principal Conservator, J&K Forest Department.

These fast growing poplars help run the 2000 saw mills of Kashmir and provides employment to lakhs of people, he said.

According to Prof. Masoodi of SKUAST, this specie of poplars was actually brought to Kashmir in mid-eighties from America and Australia to ease pressure on its dwindling forest cover.

“This exotic variety has benefitted thousands of Kashmiri farmers besides helping in carbon fixation. It grows in to a full blown tree in 10 to 15 years while as the indigenous varieties take 40 years to reach the same size,” he said

The expert suggested bringing all the barren areas under its plantation, saying extensive plantation can encourage establishment of a viable paper industry in Kashmir.

“Pollen grains are produced by countless number of trees and plants. Shall Kashmir be denuded of its unique biotic cover for the sake of unfounded myths?” asks Munshi Iqbal, a Divisional Forest Officer with J&K Forest Department.

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