Kashmir's Majestic Chinars Under Threat

4 April 2009
Kashmir Times

Srinagar: The environment of Kashmir, which has been witnessing destructive activities taking place all around much to its detriment, must be feeling yet more sickening as its most reliable friends (Chinar trees) are slowly getting exposed to threats. More than 70 percent of Chinar trees in Kashmir are in a neglected state due to lack of proper attention and because of the multiplicity of authorities involved in the care and maintenance of the Chinar trees. Experts say that these riches of heritage and environment-friendly trees may face complete extinction in the next few years if immediate measures are not taken for their maintenance and survival. As per an earlier census of the Chinar development department, more than 4000 Chinar trees exist currently in Kashmir including the two oldest Chinar trees at Darah Shaku- Bijbihara and Chitrgam-Budgam which are said to be more than 600-years-old and 250-years-old respectively. Apart from having immense heritage and aesthetic value, Chinar trees are considered extremely friendly to the environment since they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen hundreds of times more than other plants and trees. 'These trees are best for the environment given their leaf material. They contribute by increasing humidity as more transpiration takes place because of them given their leaf surface', says Professor B A Wafayee, who heads the Botany Department of Kashmir University. He adds that most of the Chinar trees in Kashmir are, however, in a neglected state. 'If they are not properly maintained; they don't allow other plants like those related to landscape, to grow. Therefore they need to be lopped and shaped up', Professor Wafayee observes. He goes on to emphasize that Chinar trees have tremendous ornamental value if maintained preferably like an umbrella. There is a conflict between the groups engaged in social activism and those holding the charge of direct care and maintenance of the Chinar trees in Kashmir regarding the maintenance of the Chinar trees. While the Chinar Development Department officials as also the experts assert that most of the Chinar trees need lopping and shaping up for their survival and for minimizing the chances of their conflict with the public convenience and infrastructure development, some social groups question it by saying, 'it may open up avenues of corruption which could well pave way for the destruction of this outstanding heritage.' They assert that a committee with representatives from various concerned sections be constituted for proposing such measures. 'We are not against the proper maintenance of Chinar trees, but we say that this lopping and pruning business can open avenues of corruption for some officers if a proper procedure is not adopted for it', says social activist Zareef Ahmad Zareef, who also campaigns for the protection of Chinar trees. 'A committee should be constituted in this connection which should have representation from the government, environment sector, floriculture, revenue, society and other related sections.' Agrees Chinar Development Officer, Mehraj-u-Din Kalu: A committee should be formed by the government which would provide guidelines. That is a must.' He said that more than 70 percent of the Chinar trees in Kashmir are in a neglected state and added that they may face extinction if not attended properly. Environmentalists are upset with the way some aesthetic measures are taken in the valley. The process of Jhelum beautification taken up by the government has almost resulted in drying-death of 13 gigantic Chinar trees located between Zero bridge and Amira Kadal Bridge. The dredged out material from the river was dumped on its banks and leveled to develop some parks intended to add to the aesthetics of Jhelum', says Parvaiz Pathan, an Environmentalist who focuses on environmental issues. 'In this process the level of soil at the base of the Chinar trees was raised by around 1 meter. Though Chinar is a huge tree yet its roots are shallow and the soil-muck deepened the roots of the trees which proved detrimental. I have observed these trees keenly dying out within a period of one and half years', Pathan observes. However Mehraj Kalu doesn't agree with it saying, 'We have taken care of this by leaving the space around the trunk with any soil deposits. He adds that pruning and shaping up of the Chinar trees is necessary for the development of landscape and the survival of these trees. Incidentally, Mehraj pointed out that his department needs the approval of a number of authorities in the Revenue department regarding complaint or maintenance issue regarding the Chinar trees.