Wild Laws in Kashmir

Maroof Ahmad Shah

For a largely mountainous landlocked region with less than 8% cultivable area forest resources constitute a key resource. Given constraints to power development and reluctance of India to give counter-guarantees for large scale investment in our State, wisdom consists in taking stock of the situation and devising strategies to develop indigenous base of our economy that resists shocks that come from crisis of world capitalism and inherent destabilizing forces in globalized economy. But it seems we have formulated laws against our own people, against the poorest sections of our society. To illustrate I take the laws that prohibit use of forest resources and its pastures and in this garb dent one of the key growing sectors – sheep industry.

I reproduce part of abstract of a paper “Cattle and Conservation at Bharatpur: A Case Study in Science and Advocacy” by Michael Lewis from Salisbury University, USA published a decade back.

For generations of ecologists and park managers throughout the world the destructive nature of livestock grazing on natural systems was so apparent that it never even needed to be discussed. Based on this insight, a ban on livestock grazing was put into practice in US national parks, and written into law in India. At Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, this received wisdom did not have the desired effect of improving the health of the ecosystem. When cattle were banned in 1982, the park’s habitat began a slow decline.

Now there is a consensus amongst ecologists that inclusive models must replace exclusive ones. Read in this light J&K Wildlife Act 1978 that bans livestock grazing in National Park. Three and half decades have passed but this law continues while the State has been increasing the land area occupied under the act. Today we have around 5000 sq km of land under National Parks. And if this law were to be implemented in letter and spirit it would mean havoc for thousands of people and their economy that is mostly dependent on produce including pastures from adjoining areas occupied under National Parks. We have growing number of third world thinkers questioning much of green discourse including National Park discourse as imperialist machination to weaken indigenous economies. If we can’t use our pastures (I am not saying overuse or degrade but advocate regulated grazing or other usages) where will large sections of our society go who are dependent on pastoralisms?

Rural economy will seriously get jolted if we apply such laws. And the State might lose its great sheep research farm at Dachigam as well.  So as elsewhere, inclusive model that uses local communities for conservation and doesn’t ban their livestock from grazing needs to be implemented. And laws accordingly formulated.  We need to consider another point. The State has failed to implement this blanket ban. This is in fact very difficult if not impossible to implement. Implementing it would cost the state billions of rupees and huge social costs as well. Dozens of villages would need to be shifted. So the need is to have scientific Environment Impact Assessment of activities done by local people or their livestock and then regulate. Blanket bans are useless, toothless. And in their name we can’t afford to lose historical sheep farm or suffocate pastoralists.

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