March 2016 News

Kashmir Forests Growing Only On Paper

31 March 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Samaan Lateef

Srinagar: Lakhs of trees, both conifers and broad-leaved, claimed to have been planted by the Forest Department in the past few years in reality exist nowhere on the ground. 'So many plantation units exist in the records of the Forest Department but on the ground you won't find trees there,' a senior forest official told The Tribune. A plantation unit has thousands of trees planted on several hectares and enclosed by a wire-fencing. The department has claimed that it has been planting over 20 lakh trees annually in different forest areas across Kashmir in the past five years by establishing plantation units. The senior official, however, said the department had 'failed to plant trees despite showing a huge plantation success on paper'. Citing an example of compartment-23 in the Drung area in Budgam forest division, the department in a reply to an RTI application has claimed that it has spent Rs 5,26,180 on plantation of trees. Similarly in the Raithan range of Budgam, the department has claimed that it planted lakhs of trees since 2005. However, most of the plantation units in Kachwari (D-20), Raiyar (S1a) and Palmaidan (D-27) compartments of Budgam only exist on paper while there are no trees on the ground, officials said. However, when RTI applicant Nazir Ahmad Lone inspected the spot, he found no plantation on the ground. 'I have been allowed to inspect the plantation units under Section 2 (i) of J&K RTI Act, 2009, by the State Information Commission. However, what I found was astonishing. There are no trees on the ground,' Lone said. Although the department has claimed that it has filed six FIRs against the officials accused of involvement in the 'failure of the plantation units' and embezzlement of funds, sources alleged the misappropriation of funds ran into crores of rupees with the involvement of several top officials. The Forest Department claimed it had planted 25.85 lakh trees in 2015 while in the current year it planned to plant 20 lakh trees. The sources said the officials concerned with establishing of plantation units put up exaggerated figures for seeking funds for fencing, plantation of trees and their growth. 'They (officials) will claim that a plantation unit is, for example, 10 hectares and raise funds as per its area for fencing and the number of trees to be planted in it. However, in reality the unit will be less than 10 hectares with a lesser requirement for trees and labour,' said an official. For executing the work of fencing and plantation of trees as per the area of unit, sources alleged, the officials would draw money much higher than the actual expenditure on the ground. 'Besides the timber smugglers, forest officials are facilitating the decline in the forest cover of Kashmir,' an official said.

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