Justice with the Bio-diversity of Raika

To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, to live as people, we must have trees.

~Shubam Baloria

The UN celebrated Biodiversity Day 2021 proposing the theme “We are the part of the Solution”. We may be the part of the solution but only when we first understand that we are the part of the problem.

Humans and ironies! We talk of sustainable development and then we do destruction in the name of development. Destruction, of forests, trees, animals and animal habitats. Isn’t it an irony in itself?
Sustainable development means development that meets the needs of present generation without compromising with the needs of future generation. A development that is ecologically viable and economically feasible.

The current pandemic has taught us the value of oxygen and how its scarcity will devastate the humanity, but still, we don’t realize the value of natural oxygen that we get from the trees in true sense. As per experts, in general a healthy person intakes total of 11000 liters of air per day which consist a total of 20% as oxygen i.e. equivalent to 2000 liters or approximately 2 cylinders of synthetic oxygen, which costs around ₹7000, and when calculated for a month it will cost us approximately 2lac 10 thousand rupee per month and to our surprise a total of 25 lac rupee per year. Let us suppose for a life span of 60 years, a person intake a total of oxygen which can cost 160 crore rupees (if synthetic) from the nature without even realizing and acknowledging the source. This natural oxygen is not less than a blessing as I quote from the Quran “fabi ala i rabbikuma tukazziban” “Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you deny?”     

Being a local from Jammu City of Jammu and Kashmir, I feel blessed for the Jungles, clear air, low level of pollution and a happy life despite the political situation of the state now UT. As in rest of the country, in here too, development is being subjected to deforestation because there is minimum space left in the cities and population is day by day increasing and more population consumes more area in land too.  Urbanisation is catching pace but this must not be at the cost of nature. India has lost over 1.6 million hectare of tree cover between 2001 and 2018, which is about four times the geographical area of Goa (world resource institute). But we need to ask ourselves that we need this type of development at stake of our future generations.

Conversion of forest to land used for other purposes has a long history which has always led to negative impact on ecosystem and the environment. We can learn from the events of climate change throughout the globe as a consequence of deforestation.  

The Fauna here is ecologically as well as mythologically prominent. The story of leopard and deer is the famous story which is believed to have laid the foundation of the Jammu city by Raja Jambu, who was on a hunt in the forest and saw a leopard and a deer drinking water together, and was mesmerised by the event and interpreted it as, the place has some divine energy of peace where such a wild animal like leopard who hunts deer usually, here is peacefully drinking water along with the deer. The place in the eyes of Raja Jambu is blessed by divine authority and he decided to build a new city here which now is known as Jammu. The forest where Raja Jambu saw the deer and leopard is the forest near Tawi, and according to the story it is believed that the forest is the area of the Raika forest.

This area is home to many endangered species of animals and birds like green peafowl, porcupines, wild boars, rabbits, snakes and bears among others. Leopard a schedule 1 animal also makes its habitat here.

Another animal who lives in this area is the Musk Deer. The Musk Deer family is different from the true deer, they don’t have antlers and have a single pair of musk like teeth and the most importantly, they have the musk gland (found only in adult males). Musk Deer is an endangered species listed by the IUCN red list, which makes it mandatory for us to strive for preserving its habitat.

The flora here consists of mixed scrubs forest with Chir trees. The forests of Raika reserve are an important part of Jammu region. The area is a natural habitat for the various species of trees. Nearly 50 plant species used in Indian system of medicine are founded in Jammu and Kashmir region, which are at the brink of extinction. Jammu Kashmir contains more than 2500 plant species used by Vaids and Hakims, of these, 45 to 50 species become threatened due to over exploitation as more than 90 percent of these herbs are collected from wild Forests.

Some of the trees here have many traditional as well as religious values and medical benefits too e.g. Bael Tree (Agele Marmelos). The tree is considered sacred and has religious importance. Locals believe that its leaves resemble the shape of “Trident” and hence are offered to the Shiva Lingam during worship. Leaves of this tree is used for bathing a new born and mother after 21 days in the religious belief to keep both save from germs and keep them healthy. Dried powder of the leaves is taken with hot water to cure menstrual disorder. Juice of the leaves is consumed to save one from heatstroke and to cure one from constipation. Dried power of the roots of this tree is used to cure dysentery. Seeds of the fruit of this tree is used as medicine fop cattle. The leaves also serve a fodder to goat and sheep.Bael tree is one in many precious tresses that flourishes in the Raika Forest.

THE NEW HIGH COURT COMPLEX- JAMMU

As per New project, a new high court complex with 35 rooms and space for expansion over the next 50 years to 70 court rooms, with 30,000 sqm has been the administrative area.

Many acres of forest land have been used for the development of the institution e.g. Central University of Jammu, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian institute of management (IIM). Now the decision to shift to High Court complex from Janipur area to Raika forest area is another blow to the biodiversity of the region.

Jammu and Kashmir government’s order (FST|20 of 1981) dated 4/02/1981 had declared the proposed project area, near Raika and Bahu. As “Bahu Game Reserve” Along with seven other locations.

Another notification of former dc Jammu dated 11-2-1982 has clearly defined the status of the area, wildlife species available and restricted it for any construction or other purpose. But despite this, several authorities have given the green Nod to the project.

The State Administrative Council approved the use of 40 hectares of forest land with a condition that the User Agency shall “restrict” the number of trees cut to 3,000. According to the norms, this whole matter should have got approval from the State Board of Wildlife and the National Board of Wildlife. This whole process was done under Section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997.The basic requirement under section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997, is that the state government has to de-notify forest land for non-forest use.

The whole approval of project usually has taken around 2-3 months because it has to be approved in a very prescribed manner (which was not followed in the case here), but through eight levels of the chain of command the whole project got green nod in around four to five days, which raised so many questions. Sources also mentioned that a huge land bank was already available with JDA but the indenting agency did not approach JDA. Government land or private land was available for the said project.

The reports revealed that present campus of Jammu high court is in a decrepit state and suffers on account of various factors like:

  • Narrow road/lane access to court complex.
  • Traffic jams are a daily matter on this road.
  • Inadequate for convenience of litigants, lawyers and judges.

It has also been projected that existing high court buildings are completely unsafe from fire safety standards as well as from a security point of view and therefore, under constant threat. The fire and emergency services during recent inspection had also recommended some measures including shifting of records/almirahs from corridors for emergency evacuation. Moreover, there was not enough Parking space available there.

A report by Daily Excelsior in October 2019 claims that the original campus has enough space to accommodate proposed expansion. Google satellite imagery also confirms claims that there is enough space in the existing building for expansion to accommodate 35 judges instead of the 17.

Bar Association opposing the decision: – Former Jammu High Court Bar association president, on the condition being outed said the existing Janipur Court Complex has been spread over an area of 576 kanals. There is enough space for the expansion there. He said at present there is strength of 17 judges in high court. Almost half of the number remains at Srinagar and Jammu high court. Moreover, for expansion multiple story buildings can be raised. Huge public money has been spent on Jammu High Court complex and it’s easily functioning since 1994 and it will be sheer wastage of public money. He said the shifting of courts from existing place to Raika/Bahu neither be in the interest of lawyers, nor in general public.

Views of former IFS officer: – A former senior IFS when contacted said “Bahu conservation Reserve and Ramnagar wildlife Sanctuary are considered as the lungs of Jammu city, if the forest is damaged the pollution level will go up and it would ultimately reduce the lifespan of the people of Jammu Region, these forests also act as the catchment area for River Tawi. Moreover, Bahu Range is the part of Shivalik Biodiversity with over 1000 wildlife species and medicinal plants.

Views of locals: – It is true that the approach to the high court is narrow and needs widening but for expansion there is enough space at Janipur, already this building was raised on forest land and closer to wildlife Park despite objections made by state wildlife authority. In a nutshell, there will be wastage of public money worth thousands of crores. The present high court infrastructure at Janipur will turn into waste land. Another large forest would be destroyed with the feeling of thousands of green trees, exposing Jammu region to environmental pollution. The Bahu conservation reserve provides a green cover to Jammu region which will get blown up by this act of deforestation process. And the region of Jammu will turn into an area like Delhi.

Legal Remedies availed

Around 25 hectares of land was required for the job. However, many facilities were listed to be included in the entire structure, as a result, the High Court body asked for 813 kanals (or 40 hectares) to be cleared inside the Bahu Conservation Reserve. Authorities dealt with his matter in a hurry and the proposal passed through eight levels of the chain of command within just four days of submission. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) approved the proposal.

Challenging the government’s decision, Satyam Arora and Aavin Kumar Chadgal (Litigant) approached the National Green Tribunal Principal Bench New Delhi but his application was dismissed on the grounds that this whole project was passed according to the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997 (which only permits denotification of land up to 5 acres of area, that too for rural road connectivity purposes). Tribunal looked away from the fact that the land falls into the ecologically sensitive zone being close to the banks of River Tawi. Even the Supreme Court has now rejected the appeal of petitioner.

Consequences: –

Once the forest is cut, all these animals will be deprived of their habitat and a huge imbalance in ecosystem will be created which will have dire consequences on human life as well. It might result in incidents like – landslides, climate change, increase in pollution and green house gasses, wild animals will start to appear in the city which is vital for the local population (a leopard entered near Gandhi Nagar area from the Raika forest and grievously injured several people, and it will be dangerous to the lives of locals in future too).

Conclusion: –

  • If the existing High Court complex is expanded then sparsely located trees will be compromised whereas the sanctioned land is a ‘very dense forest’ and is even ecologically sensitive because of its close location to the banks of river Tawi.
  • There will be wastage of public money worth thousands of crores. The present high court infrastructure at Janipur will turn into waste land.
  • The area of Raika forest if eroded can have serious implications for the environment and can cause deforestation. 
  • The pollution level of Jammu is in control and Raika forest is a major contributor to that.
  • This will cause serious implications for the environment and it will take a toll on the lives and health of people.
  • Destroying another forest land in the name of development is jeopardizing our ecosystem and it will make it more prone to pollution. 
  • Forestlands have a big influence on rainfall patterns, water, and soil quality. Forest damage is the cause of around 10% of global warming. The need to protect forest lands is now more than ever.
  • As climate changes continue to occur at great speed, removing and loss of forest lands will add to the problem and in the long run, it will not be beneficial for anyone. 
  • Our planet is already on the verge of a climate crisis due to our endless production of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane. In such a case destroying forest lands will conceive a heavy cost on the quality of lives of people.

Personal Opinion: –

It is believed that if there are any changes or improvements required then they can vertically expand the area as there seems no major reason to shift the high court from Janipur to Raika.

These Raika forest are lungs of Jammu city which should be protected at any cost. Administration should find an alternative land for the proposal and set up an example to save the environment, otherwise the day would not be far when we will be inhaling dangerous gases like the rest of the metro cities of the country. New business of Oxygen Cafes will start to grow in the state like we have already seen in Delhi previous years which is obviously not a very proud business idea.

“No matter how few possessions you own or how little money you have, loving wildlife and nature will make you rich beyond measures”

~Diksha Baloria

Sources

  1. Climate Front Jammu (NGO)
  2. Daily Excelsior
  3. JK Newsline
  4. Aavin Kumar Chadgal v. Union Territory of Jammu Kashmir and ors.

Before the Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Principal Bench New Delhi (1011/2019)

  • Environmentalist Bhushan Parimoo.
  • The Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997

iMAGE sOURCE :The Logical Indian

Aishwarya Says:

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