A sneeze is a reason enough to condemn defenseless trees to wanton chopping at the scale that would turn green lands into deserts. Yes, it is the reckless and random cutting of Poplar trees in the name of female Eurasian Poplars supposedly being the cause of 'Pollen Allergy' to humans. Two things instantly nudge the mind. One, if it is the female Eurasian Poplars that cause this sneeze, why demonizing all the species of this genus? Second, is it only females of the Eurasian Poplars that produce allergens during this season? The answer in No.
There are hundreds of Species of plants that release their pollen into the air every year and cause allergic reactions. Most people sensitive to these allergens are only allergic to some types of trees or grasses or weeds. Pollens are actually the triggers for many people who have allergies. The types of pollens that are triggers vary from person to person. Some worst offender are Juniper, oak, mulberry, elm, date palm, cottonwood, cedar, birch, silver maple, sycamore, willow, walnut, ash, beech, alder, ragweed, ryegrass, Bermuda grass, sweet vernal grass etc. And it is realistically inappropriate to blame only poplars for all the allergies the people in Kashmir are subjected to. Today we have started with trees and tomorrow it could be animals and it is going to result in grave ecological imbalance. If we start cutting trees like this and killing animals that seem to pose threat to humans, the earth will not be able to carry humans even. Ask any environmentalist!
In the name of female Eurasian Poplars large scale unscientific cutting of trees has been set off with the targets of such magnitude that the Poplars of all kinds are aimed to be wiped out from the surface of Kashmir. Has anybody been tasked to carry out the scientific selection of trees that are being cut? Have they taken opinion from SKUAST or some expert in the field before taking this errand? Is there any proposal in place to plant some new species to swap the incriminated species with a better breed that would not disturb the sensitive noses? The answer is No.
The National highway, once garlanded with green tunnels that added to the beauty of Kashmir at the entrance itself, has been denuded and the opening to Kashmir is bedecked with dusty roads and concrete structures standing brazenly along the roads in place of the greenery that happens to be the hallmark of Kashmir. These poplars not only added to the beauty of Kashmir but also had strong economic value. In the villages usually a poor man plants a few poplars when a girl child is born with a hope to marry her with its sale proceeds when she attains the age. But the callous devastation of this sector with unbridled and massive axing of these trees has created glut in the market that the rates of its timber have slid down to the dust. This sector is the supplier of main raw material to the ply board industry and provides the low cost wood planks to make apple carton. It seems there are some hidden hands involved in the game plan to skim the benefits of fallen rates in the market.
By all means this planned 'so called' sanitizing the areas off pollen attacks is going against the spirit of plantation drives. While Bhutan, a carbon negative country, meaning the green trees and plants absorb more carbon dioxide than they emit, has constitutionally agreed to secure 60% greenery of their nation, we are hell bent to ensure our lands go barren. We have even destroyed the pool of Royal trees, the Chinar, for our petty interests. The land coming under the shade of the tree is encroached and then the tree is cut with the plea that it is causing threat to human life during heavy winds and snow. Since the permission to the cutting or pruning of Chinar is restricted, a pattern to damage the foot of the tree is devised which results in its eventual death with the drying of its leaves and branches. The Chinar tree takes around 500 years to grow and what we are leaving for our posterity is the question to contemplate upon.
Plantation in paddy fields, abi-awl and conversion of land in the name of poplar plantation is what needs to be banned instead. Cutting of trees in such areas beckon some sense. The plantation in these areas create obstructions to smooth flow of natural irrigation and shade out the fields where sunlight is needed. But with the random chopping without technical backing and scientific reasons, we are simply inviting ecological and environmental disasters. If at all Eurasian poplars are indispensably required to be wiped out, alternate breeds need to be introduced so that overall count of trees do not shrink. This whole process essentially needs to be carried out in a phased manner so that sudden 'uncover' would not expose us to more damage than the benefits in the trade off.
(The writer is a post-graduate in Management Studies from the University of Kashmir)