Forest flora on sale........

The decision of lifting ban on extraction of medicinal plants from forests by state government is really unfortunate. When all the State governments of India are preserving biodiversity on priority; ours is ironically putting its forests on sale!!!!!!!



This refers to the news item “Govt lifts ban on extraction of medicinal plants from forests” (Greater Kashmir 29th January 2013). The decision of the state government to lift ban on the extraction of medicinal plants from the forests seems to be based on short-sightedness and ignorance of the ground realities. The statement of the state forest minister is very unfortunate and reflective of a non-serious attitude of the state forest department vis a vis protection of biodiversity in general and medicinal plants of Kashmir in particular. The statement of the forest minister is laughable wherein he speaks of extraction of medicinal plants with utmost care for commercial purpose that too at the hands of contractors. Ironical!! How a greedy contractor can extract rare plants with utmost care is out of my comprehension. Any person who has knowledge of ecology of medicinal plants of Kashmir will laugh at the statements of the forest minister wherein he speaks in one breath about the probability of extinction of medicinal plants and in the same breath about putting them on sale for their large scale extraction and exploitation. If the experts had advised the state Govt in 2005 to impose a ban on medicinal plant extraction fearing extinction of some valuable medicinal plant species, I am astonished to know how come in 2012-2013 the species availability or abundance of these plants has reached a level where they can afford mass extraction. Where are those experts?!!!!! Why the government is not again consulting those experts on the issue whether to lift the ban on extraction of threatened herbs or not. In July 2012 a report of the forest department telecasted in an ETV Urdu Kashmir news programme revealed that most of the medicinal plants of the state are dwindling at a faster rate and many species are at the brink of extinction, then, what made the forest department and ministry of forestry to act in a hostile and unrealistic way. This decision has left all the ecologists, conservationists and environmentalist  of the valley stunned; the question which haunts them all and  they seek answer for is,  how  within six months the valuable medicinal plants of the valley can miraculously and magically reach an abundance level where they can be extracted on large scale?
As far as our knowledge of medicinal plant abundance and conservation biology goes, we can say with surety that it is not right time to lift the ban on extraction of Himalayan medicinal plants. Most of the medicinal plants growing in the forests of Kashmir show small population sizes which is conceived as a very serious thing in conservation biology. I want to ask a question to the forests minister and his guild of forest experts (if any) how any collector can extract medicinal plants with utmost care from small populations without damaging them. It is not only the number of plants which is important but it is also the genetic variability between individuals and populations of medicinal plants which guarantee them a long term survival. Extracting medicinal plants will reduce this variability and will shrink these populations below the viable population size which can precipitate extinction of these small populations. Species with small populations are always very prone to extinctions than species with large populations. 
Even if a hardcore and skilled conservation biologist who knows the whole game of plant population biology and demography is asked to extract these rare plants with utmost care so that their survival is not affected, I don’t think he can help it without severely damaging the population; his way of extraction too will leave the population with a serious damage and survival threat. In such a scenario how can an illiterate and greedy collector and contractor be able to extract plants without recklessly damaging the fragile medicinal plant populations? Respected minister sahib, there is no viable scientific and sane concept of extraction and collection of endangered medicinal herbs with utmost care!!!! Translating your statement, “extraction of medicinal plants with utmost care” in the light of medicinal plant ecology simply means killing someone with utmost care. What does this mean? No conservation or ecological science can accommodate your slogan of “extraction with utmost care” since any sort of extraction is going to play havoc with the long term survival of threatened medicinal plants.  
The government should come clean on lifting the ban on medicinal plant extraction since it has given birth to serious suspicions in the minds of conservationists, environmentalists, ecologists, taxonomists, naturalists and other people who really understand population and conservation science and are fully aware with the collective ecological status of the Himalayan medicinal plants. The unwise decision of the government of lifting the ban on extraction of medicinal plants which are fighting the battle of their survival in the silent jungles of Kashmir leaves a safe road for smugglers and official smugglers to loot the forests of Kashmir and bring the rare medicinal plants to the state of extinction. The State Medicinal Plants Board which is an organisation meant for ensuring the conservation, preservation and welfare of state medicinal plants exists on papers only.  One fails to understand what the purpose of having such a board is which hardly exists on ground. The State Medicinal Plants Board should have all information about the medicinal plants growing in Kashmir Himalayas which unfortunately it doesn’t have and even it doesn’t strive for. The present structure and constitution of state medicinal plants board is faulty and disgusting and it would be in the better interest of the state and state medicinal flora if this incompetent and non functional board is dissolved at an earliest and reconstituted by putting better brains together who are laden with a deep knowledge of the Himalayan medicinal plants so that the establishment of the board in the state meets the purpose of its formation.
 Only a vibrant and competent board can magnificently manage the affairs related to the medicinal plants of Kashmir that too truly based on scientific knowledge. Many ecologists, conservationists and systematists are genuinely upset over this poor and unwise decision of the government. This decision exposes the bottom of the government in general and forest department in particular and is reflective of the fact that the state forests are in crude, cruel and unsafe hands.

(Dr Khursheed Ahmad Ganaie is Assistant Professor, Department of Botany Islamia College Srinagar)

Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST

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