We have mostly no qualms about the position taken in the normal course by the Forestry Department and even the Wildlife Department in giving the utmost preference to saving areas of forest land over even development projects if this comes at the cost of Jammu’s already dwindling forest cover. and Kashmir. This must not come at the cost of disturbing wildlife habitat and their natural balance as well. We observed curiously but unfortunately small amounts of rain causing destruction and devastation, especially in and near areas that a few decades ago were dense forests. We also see in many parts of the country how wild animals like leopards, tigers, elephants, etc. intrude into residential settlements as their locations and habitats are increasingly disturbed to promote urbanization. Regarding our own Jammu and Kashmir UT, we also see how hundreds of thousands of canals of forest land have not only been encroached on, but residential settlements have been established there. PILs, etc. concerning such encroachments on forest land are heard by the High Court.
If a rigid and intransigent position based on established rules, procedures and various laws governing the usurpation of government land had been adopted by the concerned authorities of the Forestry and Wildlife Departments as reports were received on the encroachments on their part, much forest land could have been saved. . It is not uncommon for an assertive authority/head of department to show courage in taking a stand in the interests of the people, but commitment and a sense of duty to the public should make all authorities concerned more assertive . This prelude had to be mentioned due to a somewhat inelastic stance taken by the two concerned departments of UT regarding the construction of vital roads that can cross the forest canopy regarding the pilgrimage to the famous and revered Kailash Shrine at Bhadarwah in Doda district. It can be noted that the Kailash Kund pilgrimage center is on the enchanting and picturesque Seoj Dhar in Bhaderwah. It is therefore imperative that the two vital road construction projects worth Rs.83 cores and Rs.10 crores respectively, all receive clearance from the two UT departments.
As already said, we do not dispute in principle some of the objections that might have been raised by the relevant departments which put the construction agencies like Roads and Buildings Departments and Prime Minister Grameen Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) on hold. move forward with the proposed project. We also note the concern expressed by the Department of Forestry regarding the hundreds of trees that will be felled during the implementation of the road construction projects leading to the sanctuary. To address this issue, if some changes are made to both projects to ensure minimal loss of green cover, this alternative should be explored. Furthermore, compensation not in terms of paying the “cost” but in terms of massive reforestation should be undertaken. On the other hand, we unfortunately have to live with this irrevocable choice to cause some type of damage or loss to the forest cover available wherever infrastructure development projects are to be launched, whether it is the construction of dams, power plants, construction and the widening of existing roads crossing or bypassing the forest cover being imperatives of development. The effort, however, should be seriously about how much forest cover loss is compensated for for our own survival.
Apart from this, we must also, as in the present case, assess whether the project concerned had in its broader objective, certain benefits and advantages for the economy of UT and the general public belonging in particular to the places / areas concerned. As it happens, the two roads, when completed, would introduce new unexplored sites and areas with high tourism potential, in addition to providing convenience for thousands of pilgrims to the famous Hindu shrine, thus meeting the social, cultural and spiritual aspects of large sections of our society and thus to promote religious tourism. This would generate a lot of job opportunities and other economic activities. In this perspective, the two project proposals will be read and analyzed respectively by the Forestry and Wildlife Departments. Therefore, a via-media must be found and some sort of agreement reached by all who have a stake in the whole process so that pilgrims can be put at ease regarding their journey through these routes to the Hindu sacred pilgrimage center. It should also be seen how, not only due to the captivatingly beautiful pilgrimage of Seoj Dhar, many commercial activities could be generated, but the potential of the place like Gulmarg in Kashmir could be developed to promote winter sports and snow skiing too. Therefore, certain alignments, changes and modifications that are obligatorily required in the projects to be carried out must be taken into consideration so that authorization is given to the twinned projects at an early date.