Kashmir's Chinar Trees On The Decline

Kashmir's Chinar Trees On The Decline

23 December 2013
The New Indian Express
Fayaz Wani

Srinagar: The number of chinar trees due to continuous felling for road-widening and other developmental projects is declining. According to government data, in 2007 there were 38,401 of the trees in Kashmir but environmentalists and activists say the actual figure is much lower. Calling the majestic Kashmiri Chinars (Platanus Orientalis Kashmiriania), locally called ‘Bouin’, a symbol of Kashmir, social activist Aijaz Ahmad says, “Hundreds of chinars have been felled by authorities for construction of railway tracks in Kashmir. Similarly, they have been cut down for widening of roads on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and other parts of the Valley.” District Floriculture Officer Anantnag Sheikh Shabir Ahmad said the trees are being felled for various reasons and whenever the trees are cut down, new saplings are planted every year. “Whenever a chinar is cut, we plant saplings. We go for massive plantation drive every year and observe March 21 as the Chinar plantation day,” he said. Asked whether the newly planted saplings survive, the official said they take due care of these and most of the saplings survive. Shabir said the Floriculture department had conducted survey on chinars in 2007 where it was revealed that their population was 38,401. Since then no further survey has been conducted, he said. An official report states that Kashmir had around 42,000 Chinar trees in 1970. Though the felling and lopping of Chinars is banned in the Valley, officials get green-signal for cutting of the majestic trees for expansion of roads and other developmental projects. Environmentalist and former chief conservator of forests Mohammad Sultan Wadoo contests official figures. In his book titled, “The Trees Of Our Heritage” published in 2007, he puts total number of Chinars in Kashmir as 17,124. Maintaining that the figure given by him is correct, he said about 746 Chinars are cut in the Valley every year. “If felling of chinars continues in the same pace, Kashmir would be without them in 22 years,” he said. Disagreeing with the official figure, Kashmiri poet and satirist Zareef Ahmad Zareef said there won’t be more than 2,500 chinars in Kashmir. “About 29 majestic chinars have been cut on the Sringar-Jammu highway from the summer capital to Bijbehara in South Kashmir. Similarly, many Chinars were cut on Tangmarg-Gulmarg road in North Kashmir,” he said. He alleged that officials sprayed chemicals on the chinars to dry them up and afterward cut them down on the pretext that the tree had dried up and posed threat to lives of people. A 200-year-old Chinar in Rajbagh area in Srinagar was cut last year and sold for just '7,000 while the value of the tree was over Rs. 1 lakh, he said. “We are not against the developmental activities. In case it is necessary to cut chinar, we don’t oppose it. However, we want that government to identify an alternative area, where the chinar sapling can be planted and taken care of,” Zareef added. It takes around 150 years for a Chinar to grow to its full size. The world’s oldest Chinar is found in Chattergam, Chadoora in Budgam. The chinar, which is said to be planted a Sufi saint Syed Abul Qasim Shah Hamdani in 1374 AD, has the stem 31.85 m in circumference and stands at 14.78 m tall.