How to Save Chinar Trees

“A Tree’s Beauty lies in its Branches, but its Strength lies in its Roots”,  

said Zimbabwean born Canadian Philosopher Matshona Dilwahyo.

Strengthening of Roots is thus the best way to make sure that the Tree becomes beautiful. If one were to draw an analogy of a ‘Chinar’ Tree with the society that today represents Kashmir, it would be wise to examine what can be done to strengthen its roots for it to regain its majestic glory.

The Chinar Tree, is living heritage of Kashmir. It is seen as a symbol for the region and is a part of its soul.  The oldest found Chinar is thought to have been planted in the year 1374. Their number has since the 1970s been in a steady decline with over 25,000 out of 42,000 ancient trees lost. The dwindling numbers are one of the sad and symptomatic stories of the environmental and cultural heritage threats that exist in Kashmir and illustrate the present state-wide ignorance / apathy towards the values of centuries of traditions and harmonic coexistence with nature. Ironically, the unrest and subsequent turmoil in the lives of people of Kashmir too reflect a similar timeline.

Multiple studies by eminent scientists point out to the various causes for a swift decline in numbers Chinar Trees. Here are a few main reasons for sharp decline in Chinar Trees,  Stress put on the trees, Plant diseases and pests, Illegal felling of trees, Lack of replanting of trees, Purposeful tree damage such as through damage to its branches, tree trunk, roots and root zone, and debarking. 

Root damage is highlighted separately as it is one of the main causes and it has been accepted that Chinars are extremely sensitive to root damage. The various ways that roots can get damaged are, Compaction of the root zone affecting the irrigation and air movement through the soil. Direct Root damage due to construction work and even conservation repair works. Suffocation through Change of Ground Levels above the Root Zone resulting in trees suffering major stress due to dramatical changes in access to air and water. Change of Access to WaterNatural periods of drought will affect tree growth in general but will not kill them. However, compaction of soil, construction, heightened soil, disappearance of streams, irrigation channels, etc. change the  availability undisturbed access to large amounts of water needed for its sustenance resulting in slowly seeing them drying up from the tops and last but not the least, Site Pollution i.e. Contamination into the root zones of water sources.

If the Kashmiri Society of not so far back in history was the majestic Chinar Tree, the current situation reflects all that ails the society. Come to think of it, every stress that affects the Chinar Tree has a corollary in the normal life of an average Kashimiri.

Root can be compared to ‘The Ideology of Peaceful Co-existence’, Compaction of Root Zone to stifling  aspirations of youth, Direct Root Damage to introduction of weapons and explosives, Change of Ground Level to introduction of Extremist Ideologies, Change of Access to Water to the lost opportunities to grow with the rest of the country and Site Pollution to the combined effect of all of the above on the socio-political-economic environment in Kashmir. Every other reason such as diseases and pest (terrorists), illegal felling of trees (stifling of every sane voice), Purposeful damage(politico-economic loot) also find similar equivalents in the life of Kashmiri since 1970. 

That begets the question, Is it possible to find solution to this conundrum by replicating the solutions for saving the Chinar Tree?

The answer to that question is an emphatic ‘YES’. Let us see if we can identify how can we save the roots to get our Majestic Chinar back to its pristine glory.

The first challenge is to remove the Compaction of Root Zone (stifling aspirations of youth). Youth represent the most aspirational segment of every society, with approximately 70% of population below 35 years of age this is the segment which needs attention. The energies, skills and enthusiasm of these youth need to be leveraged  towards much needed development of the region. It would involve multitude of actions to include modern education, infrastructure development, job creation especially by introduction of industry complementing local agro produces, modern agricultural practices such as aquaponics/ hydroponics and also encouraging export of skilled labour to other parts of the country. Apart from the obvious economic benefits, sustained interaction with rest of the country will spread awareness about their peculiar circumstances as also bringing back home attitudes conducive to peace and progress.

The next challenge is Direct Root Damage and Removal of Disease and Pests (terrorists, weapons and explosives). The collective efforts of all security agencies is effectively tackling this menace, however, we need to do more without damaging the good parts of the root, metaphorically speaking. 

The third challenge Change of Ground Level (Extremist Ideologies). Akin to the effect on Chinar Tree namely, access to air and water, uprooting the Extremist Ideology will result in providing the root the much needed water and air to spread deep and wide. This where  the civil society, the government machinery both Central as well as Local and indeed the entire population would need to come together. It is by far the most challenging task to accomplish and it cannot be addressed in isolation. Amelioration of other challenges would have a direct bearing on the success in overcoming this challenge. Needless to say, a concerted effort by the government machinery and civil society would be a step in the right direction.

The fourth challenge is Change of Access to Water (Lost Opportunities).Natural periods of drought (economic ups and downs) will affect tree growth in general and not kill it but may slowly seeing it drying up from the tops. It is here that the government machinery will have to pitch in. Letting the region catch up with rest of the country in every aspect would involve a focused, continuous and sincere effort. Care would have to be taken that the associated change does not overwhelm the local population and channelizes the existing resources, natural beauty and ethos towards collective national goal.

The last challenge as mentioned earlier is Site Pollution (Combined Effect). The improvement of the socio-political-economic environment would require time, patience as well as sustained effort and continuity. Just as a tree would need care and time to heal itself, similarly, this challenge would require all the stake holders to not lose hope and direction. The results would surprise the staunchest of naysayers. 

 Each challenge discussed above could well be a subject of independent research. The constraints of an article limits the details that one can express. To Quote ‘Rumi’ the famous 13th Century Persian Poet and Islamic Scholar, Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots”.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. natureplantisia says:

    Thanks for the great .content sir. I will also share this article with my friends & once again thanks a lots.You will also love my content.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rooh Bhat says:

      I m sure Mr NR Kulkarni will be glad to hear that. Kudos to your page as well ! Keep visiting for amazing content on kashmir.
      Cheers n Happiness


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