The upper reaches of Doodhganga Valley are facing unabated deforestation and encroachment by unscrupulous elements.
Local accounts and pictures in possession of Greater Kashmir paint a grim picture of this eco-sensitive zone in Pir Panjal Forest Division Budgam.
Locals alleged that timber smugglers from Keller and Sangarwani in Shopian have axed nearly 1200 to 1500 kail and fir trees in the valley.
A group of trekkers wishing not to be identified corroborated the local version saying that during their trekking to the place they had witnessed trees had been axed at Frasnag, Mechekhanen, Zandeekabar, Hapatbanjar and Liddermud.
Locals alleged that at Frasnag the smugglers before cutting the trees burn their stems.
The forestland has been encroached upon at Mandkhal, Hamekhal, Kuchipatri, Bakerwalkabar, Kucchipatri and Chazkaninad near Doodhganga glacier, locals said.
At Chazkaninad, locals said, some unscrupulous elements illegally claim ownership over the pastoral land and construct hutments on it. “These elements harass the shepherds and the bakerwals,” locals said.
Locals alleged that from Mechkhanan up to Chazkaninad, several hutments have come up and gravel and cement have been stored in some hutments by some “blue-eyed” persons. “Iron girdles were seized at Chazkaninad by forest department during a dismantling drive recently,” they said.
“While a shepherd faces lot of hurdles to even renovate his hutment, these influential people violate rules and construct hutments in the forest area,” said a group of locals from Budgam, wishing anonymity.
Conservator forests Srinagar circle Zubair Ahmad Shah, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, said: “Since you have brought this to my notice, we will look into these encroachments.”
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Pir Panjal Forest Division, Mohammad Ashraf Katoo said: “At Chazkaninad, one kotha had been (illegally) made which I got dismantled. I can even show you photograph of it”.
He added that the timber smugglers took undue advantage of lockdown period when the forest officials were not allowed to move. “If there is a complaint we take no time in dismantling the illegal structure,” he said.