by Malik Nauman Feroz
SRINAGAR: The Department of Horticulture’s proposal to revoke the ban on the felling of Walnut trees has met resistance from environmentalists and people associated with the famed industry.
Faiz Bakshi, Convener Environment Policy Group expressed concerns over how the revoking of the ban would affect Kashmir’s environment and heritage.
“Ideally, we shouldn’t cut these trees. The more trees we have, the better it will be for our environment. Our forest cover has already decreased significantly. The Walnut trees along with Apple trees form a big chunk of our total forest cover,” Bakshi said.
“Additionally, it needs to be ensured that the introduction of the grafted and new variety of Walnut trees shouldn’t cause the unique Kashmiri Walnut to disappear.”
He added if the ban is revoked even then only depleted Walnut trees should be cut.
“Let the department grow and carefully cultivate this new variety at some government facility. Then evaluation should be done about how the trees and their fruits fare against the native Kashmiri variety. If it is good then the process of felling older trees can be undertaken,” Bakshi said.
Echoing similar sentiments, lawyer and environmentalist Nadeem Qadri said the proposal of revoking the ban on walnut trees felling is “bad” and would “adversely” affect Kashmir’s wood arts.
“If the proposal is accepted, it would enable mass-felling of walnut trees which would essentially kill the walnut industry,” Qadri said.
The proposed revocation of the ban has also raised apprehensions among the people associated with the walnut woodcraft business. In its heyday, the walnut furniture industry of Kashmir used to be internationally renowned. Furniture from the region used to be exported to the USA, UK, and the Gulf countries. But the industry has witnessed a decline gradually.
Mohammad Yousuf, a walnut timber merchant who has been in the trade for over two decades is concerned that the move would essentially announce the “death” of the region’s walnut timber-related businesses.
He said the region is already facing a shortage of quality walnut timber and the removal of the ban would only compound the problem.
“The current procedure regarding the felling of older trees involves the issuance of a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Department of Horticulture. No-objection certificate (NOC). If the ban is revoked, there would be less oversight from the authorities and the lumberjacks would have free rein to cut as many walnut trees as possible,” Yousuf said.
“The modern chainsaw would make light work of even the largest of walnut trees.”
He said the unchecked cutting of walnut trees would not only cause a shortage of walnut timber in the long-term but also devalue the timber in the short-term.
He said the new variety of walnut trees with which the department is planning to replace the older trees will produce a less amount of timber due to their girth.
“The older walnut trees in the Valley have a girth of more than 10 feet but the new variety of trees will have half of it,” added Yousuf.
Meanwhile, the Director Horticulture Kashmir Aijaz Ahmad Bhat said the department has submitted a proposal for revoking the ban because of the “declining” walnut yield in the Valley.
“The process of getting a walnut tree cut once it becomes depleted is quite hectic. We submitted the proposal to make it easier to fell such trees so that new trees with quicker and higher yield can be planted in their stead,” Director Horticulture said.
However, Bhat expressed reservations on the passing of the proposal into law anytime soon.
“No one should expect the proposal to be accepted overnight,” he said.
Bhat said that the department had already set up three nurseries: one each in Kupwara, Anantnag and Srinagar with plans to supply around 20,000 grafted walnut plants yearly.
“We are actively preparing and informing the orchardists about the process. No matter what happens to our proposal, we will continue with our process,” he said.
As per the Jammu and Kashmir Preservation of Specified Trees Act, 1969 a walnut tree can neither be cut nor pruned, even if it stands on private land. The act was brought in to protect the region’s walnut economy. Ever since permission is required for felling or pruning of these trees.