With the inception of turmoil in Valley, the heritage tree were axed at many places and sold at peanuts for timber despite the blanket ban on its axing from the government. To protect them in 1982 a full-fledged Chinar Development department was created in the Valley, however shortage of staff and in adequate powers are proving a major hurdle for its functioning.
Srinagar: The Majestic Chinars are dwindling fast and going by the official figures the number has come down to half in past four decades and this majestic tree also known as Boune in local language is facing axe across the Valley at some places with the official patronage.
Recently a majestic Chinar that has been planted several decades ago by some unknown person was axed in full public view near Tourist Reception Centre. This grand Chinar tree was axed on the instructions of top government officials to pave way for a newly constructed flyover that government thinks will reduce pressure on the Abdullah bridge during peak hours especially when top politicians and bureaucrats use the stretch either to travel towards civil Secretariat or visit their cosy official residences.
The felling of this majestic tree attracted attention from every passerby who termed it as a ”murder in a broad day light” and finally a group of civil society members comprising different walks of life stood up to launch “save Chinar” campaign. The beauteous Chinar as per the history were brought to Kashmir centuries ago from the Central Asia and rulers especially Mughal kings and other rulers who planted thousands of Chinar saplings dotting different parts of Kashmir. The Chinars not only added more beauty to pristine environs of the Valley, these magnificent trees also provided relief from heat in summer and charcoal for poor when its leaves start to wither in the autumn months. However, if steps are not taken, these gigantic trees will soon become history like many other things of the past.
“For us Chinars are not only trees, these are symbols of our heritage. Unfortunately, we are destroying this heritage by our own hands and time will come when we will curse ourselves for not saving these heritage trees,’’ says Javid Ahmad who fights for conservation of these trees. “Earlier, we used to have these trees at every village, now, only remains of these trees are left at many places and nobody cares.’’
As per the figures of JK’s Chinar Development department that was created to look after the hundreds of Chinars that has a history on centuries and are spread across various districts of the Valley more than 34000 Chinars are in Kashmir, however on ground situation seem to somewhat different as despite government ban on the axing of these mammoth trees the felling of these Chinar’s continues in every part of Kashmir. And if fresh survey will be conducted today there will be less number of Chinar trees present in different parts of the Valley. The latest census was conducted by the department in 2012 and then was put at over 20000 trees.
The Chinar’s are facing axe not only from the greedy civilians but also from those officials who were supposed to guard these majestic trees for our future generations. Even the office that was created to safeguard this historic tree has failed in all the senses as instead of preserving the Chinars officials at the helm of affairs are only bothered about their fat salaries. Even the bureaucrats who were supposed to be guardians of these trees didn’t bother to safeguard the majestic trees while conceiving road or other development project that shows concern or priorities of the government. “Our officials are only bothered about building up cement and concrete structures and never take a step to conserve environment. Neither, they try to conceive projects that could be termed as environmental friendly. For any road, building or flyover it is mandatory for officials to axe trees,’’ said Dawood Ahmad who took part in several plantation drives to safeguard trees in various parts of the Valley especially in the countryside.
Four decades ago, the census was conducted by the department of gardens, parks and floriculture was in 1970 when the number was put at 42,000. This time the oldest Chinar that dates back some 700 years still stands at Chetturgul Chaadoora in Cental Kashmir. Another oldest Chinar planted by famous Mughal ruler’s Jahangir’s son Dara Shikoh is standing in the lush green lawns of Achabal Park and both the trees attract number of tourists.
With the inception of turmoil in Valley, the heritage tree were axed at many places and sold at peanuts for timber despite the blanket ban on its axing from the government. To protect them in 1982 a full-fledged Chinar Development department was created in the Valley, however shortage of staff and in adequate powers are proving a major hurdle for its functioning. “Its irony that government has not given us full powers to protect the Chinar tree,” rues an officer at J&K’s Chinar Development Office. “And shortage of staff is also proving a major hurdle in safeguarding the tree and we are handicapped,” he said.
Familiar as Booune in the Kashmir, the Chinar tree is considered as an integral part of Kashmiri culture. In the past every village in the valley used to have a row of Chinar trees. Unfortunately in recent years the number of Chinar trees has decreased considerably.
The recent Census conducted by the Chinar Development Department four years ago has put the number of Chinar trees around 20,000. With 3, 927 have been found in Srinagar, 7,887 in Anantnag, while as 5,922, 816, 1,179 have been censed in Baramulla, Kupwara, Budgam while the Pulwama district has lowest 618 Chinar trees. Though no fresh census has been conducted, the officials say that around 34000 chinars are present in Kashmir and claim that the department with other organization has planted 14000 chinar trees in last 4-5 years. However, many members of civil society has raised question mark on this figure. “When department can’t prevent felling of chinar trees, how is it possible they will plant 14000 trees in four years. It looks that these figures are fudged as officers are aware that people are not bothered about these trees anymore,’’ says an environmentalist. And on part of greedy civilians they have adopted clandestine means by spraying some chemicals on the bottom of the Chinars that result in the dying of these trees within months. Dozens of Chinar trees in the posh MA and Residency Road under the nose of officials withered and nobody even bothered to look into the circumstances. However there is also a silver lining, as first time a group of citizens comprising poets, students, artists, journalists, musicians and entrepreneurs stepped up their efforts to create awareness among masses about the importance of this majestic tree which if not preserved will become extinct. The members of the group even held a symbolic protest outside the Chinar Development office. They used social media to create awareness and also shamed officials in public who were responsible for felling of these trees. Though the efforts of these noble souls have failed to wake up the government from slumber however a prominent philanthropist and reputed businessman who is running his CSR program under the banner of Rahim Greens has decided to plant 10000 trees across the Valley next year and 2000 of them will be chinar trees.
“I have been planting trees from past many years in different parts of the Valley. From next year, I have decided to plant Chinar trees as well. It is pathetic that those who were assigned to safeguard the Chinar trees are sitting idle,’’ said Abdul Hameed. He said that apart from government civil society has to share the responsibility. “We can’t leave everything on the government. The members of civil society, especially school children should come forward and plant Chinar trees. Like our forefathers did for us. It is our responsibility to plant trees of various varieties so that our future generations will not curse us. The Chinar needs our attention,’’ he said. Recently, a group of young musicians also released a song on the preservation of Chinar, the song has gone viral on the social networking sites and in the video people especially young generation is being made aware about the benefits of Chinar in our lives. Like these young volunteers – the government should step in and try to do some concrete work to safeguard the Chinar and social media should be used as an effective tool to spread awareness about it. So far Chinar has been reduced to only symbolism with many prominent institutions named after this magnificent tree. However, those who are at the helm of affairs have done nothing on ground for the preservation of the tree. Though a new variety of Chinar that doesn’t spread on huge area was introduced by the government, however, it was never distributed among the public for mass distribution. If government is sincere, then plantation of 50 Chinar’s of new variety should be made mandatory for every government department, otherwise time is not far away when we will miss the shades of Chinar forever.
The story appeared in print edition of May 24-31, 2017.