Friday, May 23, 2008

Slicing a Forest

When you defile the pleasant streams
And the wild bird's abiding place,
You massacre a million dreams
And cast your spittle in God's face.
~John Drinkwater

Article 77 of the Swiss constitution provides for the preservation and protection of its forest land. Environment is accorded more importance than -- hold your breath: public works, communication, economy and even political rights in Switzerland. In the American forests there are areas designated as wilderness by acts of Congress. No human being can go for logging, mining, road and building construction and land leases in these zones. In 1999 when a road was proposed in a national forest, President Clinton swiftly intervened. He ordered a moratorium. Construction work came to an immediate stop. One of America's great central tasks, Clinton quoted Roosevelt, is “leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us”.

Contrast this with Kashmir 2008. I’ve posted on this issue previously and I don’t intent to be iterative but this is something – invoking both Presidents Clinton and Roosevelt – we owe to our future generations. Let me simplify it a bit. Countryside Kashmir is being sullied and a lawful body is doing the damage. It is actually a board that oversees a pilgrimage to the Amaranth cave in Kashmir. They work less like a board and more like missionaries-on-a-mission, much to the chagrin of environmentalists/conservationists. The missionary cave board has an ex-military man at its helm. He is also acting as the governor of J&K. And these folks are openly flouting law and wrecking the pine and cedar forests of Kashmir.

Sample these headlines:
May 23, 2008: Greater Kashmir, Kashmir’s major daily:
May 23, 2008: Rising Kashmir, another major publication:
After denial SASB undertakes secret road construction plan in Baltal

SASB is the missionary board with its official appellation. It goes on building hundreds of huts and lavatories in the forest area causing considerable damage to the environment. More than 600 lavatories and 150 prefabricated huts have come up in the recent days. The land, newspapers report, is actually forest land falling in Sindh forest division where construction of any sort is strictly forbidden until proper approval from the state cabinet, forest department and other competent authorities. The law says that no construction – even a temporary one – can be carried out in the green zone.

To its credit the board applied for government permission last year. However the request was TURNED down. Undeterred the missionary board went about its work, making concrete lanes and concrete plinths using brick. In the middle of a virgin forest! Nobody ever tells these tomfools that if they ever attempted this anywhere else on God’s green earth, they would be locked up in some dark dungeon to rot for the rest of their adult lives.

That is not all. The missionary board has been working on a concrete road, cutting through the forest. They have secretly built a 3 km road Dumail onwards. My friend Omar reports in Rising Kashmir that the proposal to construct the macadamized road for the passage of light motor vehicles to the Amaranth cave, situated at a height of 3888 m above the sea level, was made in 2003 on the directions of State Governor. It is a crime. It is crime squared to pity.

Kashmir's beautiful forests have lots of European hoopoes in them. These are green and tranquil realms. And they have remained largely untouched by human intervention. A principal defining characteristic of these forest lands is that they do not have, and in most cases never have had, roads across them. We should let it be. The heady pines are vital havens for wildlife -- indeed, absolutely critical to the survival of some endangered species.

Ours is nature unspoiled. A treasured inheritance which we all should be proud of.

We cannot -- and should not -- allow a missionary board to tarnish it.

That is the least we can do for our little dell.