Budgam: Where ever the eye goes, it looks like a massive graveyard of forests. Chopped trunks, half-cut trees, decayed logs- Tosa Maidan represents a symbolic picture depicting the loot of green gold in Kashmir.
The great meadows, cloistered with snow capped mountains, and streams which meanders through its vast swathes of lush green land, is located in Pir Panjal range in central Kashmirs Budgam district.
The locals, living in the foot hills of the meadow, can only recount memories when it was full of forests.
They said the dense forests covered the meadows till the foothills.
But the eruption of armed militancy in Kashmir changed everything.
“Everything was alright before the armed conflict started in 1989 in Kashmir,” Mir Mushtaq, a member of Tosamaidan Bachao Front told The Kashmir Press.
“A trip to the meadow gives an ugly look because there is all round deforestation led by timber smuggler over the years,” Mushtaq said, adding, “Now look at those naked areas of Krala Sangri, Pareezapan, Zampather, Damdam etc. Everywhere you will find the trees have been chopped”.
Recounting those days when the timber mafia started deforestation, he said everyday smugglers would load hundreds of horses with forest tree logs and would carry them to the nearby saw mills.
“Not only smugglers, the army stationed in the meadows would take their share of the loot as a bribe to give them free passage in the forests”.
“The army porters, smugglers and the forest department employees were hand in glove in carrying out the mass deforestation in the area with the consent of the army officials. Soon afterwards, it turned into a grave yard of forests where you could only find chopped trunks, stems and fallen trees”.
The lush meadows had been used by the army for long for firing practices- which also wrecked havoc on trees.
Ghulam Ali, 90, who resides at the foothills of Tosamaidan in Sitaharan village, said in the 1960’s when he was in his twenties, the
army decided to use this large lush green meadow for the firing practices and drills.
“To carry out this activity an agreement was made between state government and the ministry of defense wherein over three thousand kanals of forest land was leased out to the Army”.
“It was since then they undertook the firing drills in the area. Even ammunition from the Bofors guns was fired from Hard-e-Panzu areas towards the Tosamaidan meadow in summer months,” Ali said.
“During the summer months the whole area of Tosamaidan and its adjoining villages look like a war zone as one could hear continuous blasting sounds throughout the day when army would start firing
As soon the insurgency erupted, he said the meadows and the areas surrounding it became the hot bed of militancy.
“The militants used to carry several deadly attacks on the government forces while taking refuge in the forests. They will thus also manage to escape taking advantage of the dense forests,” Ali said.
“In order to reduce the increasing number of attacks, the army chopped down countless trees around the camps. I was personally taken as a forced labourer by the soldiers several times to help them in chopping
down the trees in the meadow”.
He said the rotten and decayed trees lying all around the lush green meadows, on the slopes and the peaks, still bear testimony of those days.
“This was another major reason which led to the deforestation of the meadows,” Ali said.
Tosa Maidan has a strategic location. It connects the Kashmir Valley with the Poonch region of Jammu.
Apart from being the route and a destination used by the shepherds for grazing their livestock, it was used by travelers to cross into Kashmir and Poonch.
A team of scientists working at the centre for Climate Change and Mountain Agriculture, SKUAST, Kashmir, to Tosamaidan was left shocked to see the deforestation of meadows.
In a detailed report, their survey revealed almost 40 to 50 per cent of the forests have been severely devastated by timber smuggling and illegal extraction of firewood.
Talking to The Kashmir Press, District Forest Officer Budgam, Mohammad Rafique admitted that the meadow had turned into a graveyard of forests with the passage of time.
“I admit that it has turned into the graveyard of forests,” he said.
“It was twenty years ago when the militancy was on peak and the attacks on forces’ at the said forest was a routine. So in order to
bring respite from the deadly attacks, they chopped down forest trees,” he said.
Rafique also blamed militants for having their hand in carrying out the deforestation of meadows in the past.