By: Sheikh Umar Ahmad
Kashmir is famous world over for its mesmerizing beauty, beautiful landscapes, mighty hillocks and above all its natural resources whether it be water, forests, or medicinal wealth. When on one side, Kashmir is facing intense crisis on political & economic fronts, meanwhile, Kashmir’s rich endemic flora & fauna is under deep threat owing to state government’s neglect & lackadaisical approach towards the intense poaching of wild animals, exploitation of rare medicinal plants and above all habitat destruction that is occurring at a pace greater than ever. Several significant medicinal and aromatic plant species are at the verge of extinction in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. At least six medicinal and aromatic plant species are in the red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and have been declared as endangered. These plants exhibiting enormous medicinal properties are routinely subjected to illegal exploitative threats, because of that there numbers in wild have been greatly reduced to a threatened level. The valley is house to a diversity of medicinal plants that have been used in traditional health care systems over thousands of years. The knowledge of traditional medicinal and aromatic plants has been wearing away in recent years due to rapid cultural change. An official privy to this fact in the state forest department believe that the forests of Kashmir have seen massive extraction and smuggling of these herbs since the last two decades has to lead to their diminished level. Most of these herbs which are of high medicinal value are being illegally transported to other places like Chandigarh, New Delhi and other states where scores of pharmaceutical companies flourish. Some plants that were endemic to Kashmir are severely threatened because of these reasons and plants like Amebia Benthamii rarely exists now. It is to be believed that this illegal extraction of these medicinal plants is mostly done by the shepherds who graze their animals in the forests.Experts believe that there are many other species of herbs which are vanishing from the hilly areas. A study under Special Assistance Programme (SAP), Department of Botany, University of Kashmir recently revealed that about 650 plant species are being used as medicine in one or other form in Kashmir, some of these plant species have vanished, but most of them are at greater risk and need to be preserved. In addition to this, there are various other factors including overgrazing, climate change pattern and pollution that have severely led to declining in growth of medicinal herbs in the valley. Moreover, habitat loss, invasion of other weeds and over-exploitation are the reason behind the decline of availability of every medicinal herb.
Though quite late, but in its endeavor to save critically endangered medicinal plants in Jammu and Kashmir from extinction, the state government has initiated work on a scientific strategy to save the prized plants. Taking cognizance of a report published in Greater Kashmir on 28th August 2018, the government conducted threadbare discussions with scientists to conserve the critically endangered plants. At least 30 species of animals and plants in Jammu and Kashmir are on verge of extinction, according to the latest notification issued by Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF). This includes 10 animals and 20 plants species that have been categorized on the basis of recommendations of state government. The notification makes the Centre legally bound to fund projects for the protection of these species.
The critically endangered 20 plants species of J&K are Aconitum chasmanthum (Patees), Aconitum deinorrhizum (Metha patees), Aconitum heterophyllum (Mohra), Aconitum kasmiricum, Aconitum violaceum (Patees), Eremostachyssuperba (Sumbal e biabani), Gentianaornata (Gentian) , Gentianakurro (Neel Kanthi, Kuru), Lagotiscashmeriana (Kashmir lagotis, Hong len-Ladakh) Meconopsislatifolia (Gul e Neelam) Meconopsis aculeate, (Blue poppy), Saussureacostus (Kuth), Saussurea medusa (Snow lotus), Saussureasimpsoniana ( Phen Kamal, Jogi Badshah), Sophoramoorcroftiana (Baker, Praval Simi (Ladakh), Podophyllum hexandrum (Bankakkri, Banwangun), Dactylorhiza hatagirea (Salam panja), Picrorrhiza kurroa (Kutki) Betulautilis (Bhurj) and Taxus wallichiana ( Barmi). The state government in its latest development with regard to conservation of these medicinally important plants has roped in experts from State Medicinal Plants Board, State Forest Research Institute (Bio-diversity Board), Department of Ecology Environment and Remote Sensing, Department of Horticulture, Department of Floriculture, SKUAST-K (Regional centre National Medicinal Plants Board), Directorate of School Education Kashmir to devise strategy for saving the critically endangered medicinal plants. In addition to various other suggestive strategies that have been put forth for the conservation, necessarily the demarcation of areas where farmers in clusters will be encouraged to take up the cultivation of these rare herbs & research methodologies is also needed to develop new agro-techniques to preserve the gene bank of these medicinal plants. J&K State Forest Research Institute has also consented to establish two nurseries of medicinal plants which will serve as the gene bank of these critically endangered species, but as it is, these steps should be accelerated so that they are executed on right time and we will be able to protect our real & endemic medicinal plant wealth in state. Additionally, SKUAST-K has been asked to develop cultivation protocols and agro-techniques for some of these endangered medicinal plants, with Directorate of School education, will be helping in capacity building, awareness and will propagate at least one medicinal plant from the list of endangered species.
In its bid to preserve this pristine glory, the union ministry has prohibited collection of the species of these plants, except with the approval of the Jammu and Kashmir State Biodiversity Board only for the purposes of scientific research, herbarium and museum of scientific and academic institutions, propagation and any other scientific investigation. The ministry has also sort & directed the Jammu and Kashmir State Biodiversity Board to undertake studies on all aspects of the notified species for holistic understanding, propagation of the notified species for the purpose of conservation and rehabilitation. It was also stressed upon the concerned ministry, the importance of spreading awareness about the preservation of medicinal plants. These things have due credibility only when they are implemented on the ground in Toto. Formulating policies, drafting policy documents will work only if implemented, otherwise, this purpose of safeguarding our natural bestowed resources will be lost in second’s time.
P.S: Before that we will be discussing how much of our economically viable & medicinally important plants have extinct from the wild. It is high time for the administration at the helm and also the responsibility of the concerned department to put forth conservation measures asap, by prohibiting illegal exploitation of wild herbs from forests, prohibiting poaching of wild animals, regulating trade on these medicinally important plants for research and development purposes. Above all, there should be orientation programme’s for officials, workshops for local population, courses on the conservation of wild wealth both at school as well as at college level, so that there is an all-inclusive involvement of greater public in safeguarding our important resources for us, as well as for the generations to come.
(The author is a freelance journalist & currently working as a Doctoral Research fellow (DST INSPIRE) at CSIR – Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu, J&K)