Here’s How Mindless Deforestation Will Jeopardise Ecological Balance In Kashmir

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Forests are life-giving. As the lifeblood of human existence, forests provide shelter to several species of plants, animals and insects. Water bodies survive and remain perennial if forests remain alive and throbbing. So integral is the existence of a forest for ecological well being that it led a fifteenth-century Kashmiri poet Sheikh ul Alam to observe thus: “Ann poshi teli yeli wan poshi”, meaning “food will last as long as forests last.”

Worrisome Trends

As per the India State of Forest Report of 2019, 24.56% of the geographical land of India is under forest cover. The report registers an increase of 5,188 sq. km of forest and tree cover combined from the past record, but Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed drastic forest reduction in the recent past. What is worrisome is the fact that the logic adopted by the report is questionable in its estimate of the total forest cover.

As per the definition of  ‘forest cover’, it includes land that is more than 0.01 sq km (one hectare) and has a tree canopy density of more than 10%, notwithstanding the legal status of the land. ‘Recorded Forest Area’ by the FSI (Forest Survey of India) includes land that is legally considered a forest, as per government records, regardless of the actual canopy density. In other words, if forest land is diverted for dam construction, the legal status of same may remain unchanged. In view of expert researchers working on the subject, ‘Recorded Forest Area’ could include land which belongs to the local forest department but has no forest.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the Forest Advisory Committee in Kashmir has given clearances to about 150 projects for industrial development. This can further add to the valley’s woes by jeopardising its ecological balance.

To further add to the woes of the Himalayan state, Forest Advisory Committee of the state of Jammu and Kashmir gave official clearances to 125 projects involving diversion of forest land between August and October 2019. The timeline marks the political shift in the administration of the Himalayan state since the withdrawal of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, 1950.

As per another report, as many as 198 projects, mostly for road construction, were approved by the FAC in four meetings on September 18October 3October 17, and October 21 in 2019. The plausible response by some officials is that as The Jammu Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, was to kick in from October 31, 2019, as a direct consequence of this development, Jammu and Kashmir Forest Act 1987, under which the FAC (Forest Advisory Committee) is formed, faced its demise.

Outcome Of Deforestation

Deforestation may lead to irreversible damages in the environment and can precipitate climate change. Forest degradation, along with deforestation, is considered to be a grave problem worldwide as it is estimated that planet earth has lost over half of the tropical forests worldwide since the 1960s. Reckless mining in Jhelum river basin has furthered the problems in the Kashmir valley. Floods of 2014 in Kashmir is not a distant reminder of the environmental damage unleashed. As per estimates, the 2014 floods damaged 2,61,361 structures, 3,27,000 hectares of agricultural land and 3,96,000 hectares of horticultural land.

The housing sector suffered losses over ₹300 billion, and the business sector lost around ₹700 billion. Trees like almond and walnut take 10–15 years to grow and mindless deforestation and official haste to approve projects at the cost of the environment may sow the seeds for consequences like over siltation, heavy erosion of soil leading to flash floods. It would also cause a loss of biodiversity and reduced forest productivity.

The construction mafia needs to be reined in, and restoration of lost forest reserves is the need of the hour. Trees can only be saved when enlightened citizenry takes up cudgels to protect them from being felled. Chipko Andolan is reminiscent of an aware citizenry protecting the green reserve. The movement in advanced stages took the shape of the “Save Himalaya” movement.

Uttarakhand was the epicentre of the movement, and it was primarily led by the women who formed a human chain around trees to resist loggers. The government machinery needs to respond with greater urgency to nip the trend of deforestation to improve the ecological well being of Kashmir Valley.

Trees are part and parcel of growing up. Children dream of fairies and deep woods as children’s literature across cultures is built on trees, creatures and mysteries of the forest. Forests are not just indicators of a good environment but also augment the social and cultural well-being of people. Who can forget such characters as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Winnie the Pooh (1926) or even Little Red Riding Hood (1812)? Forests have been depicted in various ways,  thus enriching the cultural capital. We must preserve them at every cost.

Featured image for representation only.
This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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