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3rd February '2008
The Forest Strikes Back!

It is a universal truth that whenever man interferes with Nature, it strikes back viciously. In ancient times, the valley of Kashmir which is surrounded by high mountains of the Himalaya had very abundant lush green dense forests. These formed a back drop to almost all populated areas and sometimes even extended right up to the urban centres in the main towns. In fact, in winter because of the heavy snowfall wild animals would descend from the mountains and could be seen roaming in the city in search of food especially during the night hours. In the rural areas, the Forest used to yield firewood, herbs, and also timber for the residents living in its vicinity. However, with the increase in population and the breach of the mountain barrier isolating the valley, people started using the forests indiscriminately. Even though the forests in the state had enough capacity to yield both firewood and timber, yet these could not be exploited to the capacity because of absence of mechanised approach into deep remote areas. Huge quantities of fallen wood rotted in almost all remote areas because of inaccessibility. In spite of this, the vandalism remained restricted to the neighbourhood of populated areas. Most of the forests were saved due to absence of roads. The increased pace of development resulted in the establishment of extensive road networks. Unfortunately, while on one hand roads helped population in getting improved facilities of basic infrastructure, on the other hand these enabled unscrupulous exploiters to vandalise the “Green Gold”! Whenever a new road was taken to a remote area, the first casualty was the lush green forest in that area. In the earlier stages the destruction of forests was on a low key. However, with the setting up of private forest lessees, the destruction became organised on a much larger scale. The people involved in the extraction from state forests became rich exponentially. The forest lessees holding lease of different forest areas in the state became part of the upper class like the erstwhile feudal landlords, not withstanding the fact that some of these used the most unscrupulous means in getting rich. Still the destruction wrought by some of these greedy and unscrupulous exploiters was on a scale which could be contained. There still existed a semblance of rule of law. The thievery was on a hush hush basis. However, the turmoil of 1990 gave total freedom to the exploiters and they went berserk. The most unfortunate part was the guardians of law becoming their protectors as well as partners. The uniformed soldiers especially of the paramilitary forces developed a nexus with timber smugglers resulting in wanton destruction of forests all over the state especially in the valley. Illegally crafted furniture was sent in convoys of trucks all over the country. There was a total free for all. Even the young trees were not spared. Hush hush thieves gave way to brazen dacoits. They had an easy excuse. Put everything on invisible militants. No questions could be asked from an invisible and illusive character. The greatest tragedy was the locals too participated in this loot resulting in the unprecedented destruction of Kashmir’s environment. One would have expected that with the installation of elected governments, the lawlessness of the early years of turmoil would be halted. On the contrary, the loot became more organised and “legalised” with the top most political and administrative hierarchy participating in it and sharing the spoils. Kashmir’s natural gift, the unparalleled environment was brutally bruised, probably beyond redemption. Mother Nature which had been crying all these years has now struck in a most vicious way in the form of the “Forest Scam”. As stated by a senior journalist in a recent article, the genie is out of the bottle and one does not know how long it will remain on the prowl? The irony of the situation is that the scam has been exposed on a deal involving import and not export of timber from the valley. Normally, it would be probably the last thing to be objected to by people in general because of the extensive destruction of forests caused by export of timber from the state. One would have seen the initiative as a noble cause to save the depleting forest resources of the state. But the intention was not in reality as noble as has been made out to be but was rather based on a totally selfish motive of pure monetary aggrandisement by all possible means. One peculiar characteristic of the scam is that it has engulfed all the mainstream parties thereby confirming the fact that the present ruling edifice on which Delhi is putting its entire trust is thoroughly corrupt. It is like a structure built next to a quick sand pit and can vanish with just a slight push. The constituents are running down each other like a group of thieves fighting over spoils of loot. Totally unmindful of the common people whom they are supposed to represent and for whose well being they are required to work. The prowling genie may not stop with the tumbling of the present edifice but may dig out the skeletons from the distant past. Already talk of probing through CBI the happenings of eighties and nineties is going on. An important leader of the ruling coalition has even threatened to go back to mid seventies. Once the skeletons start tumbling these would not be only out of the forest cupboard. There are umpteen other cupboards full of more shady skeletons. There has been so much muck and dirty linen all around that the public washing in the assembly would not have been enough to clean it up. The drama inside the assembly has only lit a match. There is enough explosive material inside to blow up the whole thing. There is only one way of getting rid of this stigma which has stuck tenaciously to every one in the arena and that is to wipe clean the whole thing and totally demolish the corrupt edifice. For Delhi to maintain any semblance of credibility about a clean government in the state it is vital to do something and that too very fast. The only redeeming option for them may be to go back to the people without the tainted players being around and ask them to create a new edifice based on honesty and transparency. That may be really a tall order but in any case would be better than sitting on a hollowed structure totally eaten away from inside by the worms of corruption. Will they do it? It is very doubtful as they have always missed the bus! In the meantime, the “Mother Nature” and especially the “Forests” which have been ruthlessly massacred and have now struck back, must be enjoying the discomfiture of the perpetrators of vandalism!

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