Pollen Menace Sparks Migration from City Areas, Govt. Unmoved

SRINAGAR —  Hundreds of sick and elderly and in some cases families with small kids have temporarily shifted from areas around Khushhal Sar to save themselves from the pollen menace as authorities despite repeated court directions have failed to remove Russian poplars planted in thousands in illegally around the depleting water body.

Residents living along the Eidgah-Hawal stretch of the road are the worst hit as embankments of the water body have seen mushroom growth of poplar trees in last few years replacing Kashmir willow which were traditionally grown there.

According to Jalaludin, President Usmania Colony Welfare Committee and Farooq Ahmad Khan, President Mohalla Committee Malapora, Narwara families have been forced to shift sick, elderly and children to other areas to live with relatives as it has become hazardous for them to venture out of their houses these days because of high density of pollen flying around in the entire area.

They said plantation of poplars in the open spaces along Khushahal Sar has been going on unchecked in clear violation of High Court orders. 

“We have already pleaded with authorities including the Divisional Commissioner,  but of no avail”, said Manzoor Ahmad Chilu urging High Court to take suo moto cognizance of the grave issue in the public interest.

It bears mention that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued an order in 2015 asking state government to remove Russian poplars across the Kashmir valley. The government had then responded  that “the order will take time to be implemented”. It was on June 7, 2015.

More than four years later in February this year High Court again asked the government to inform it about further course of action to identify the poplar species emitting pollen which has become a health hazard in Kashmir.

Underscoring their potential threat to human health, the High Court had, on May 5 2015, said that tehsildars would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the orders passed by deputy commissioners for felling of the trees. In April, the court had issued another order that was not implemented, following which the court directed the government to implement the order at the earliest possible and wherever necessary.

The court, in one of its earlier judgments, had observed, “It is common knowledge that pollen seeds of poplars of Russian species adversely affect health of general public, mostly of elderly people and children. The pollen seeds of these trees have given rise to chest disease in the Valley.”

The court had also cited Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. “The right to life can only become meaningful, only if a person is healthy,” said the court. It has now ordered the implementation of its order issued in April without any further delay. In the earlier order, the court had ordered chopping of poplar trees and had imposed a ban on planting them.

Hearing a petition, a division bench of Justices Ali Muhammad Magrey and Sanjeev Kumar asked state’s additional advocate general, Asifa Padroo in February this year, to inform the court within four weeks about further plan to deal with the pollen menace.

Russian poplars

During summers, populous deltoids—female poplar—sheds a cotton-like material carrying seeds that cause allergy and aggravate respiratory disorders. This cotton has become an irritant in the recent past for the locals as well as tourists. 

The name “Russian poplar” is a misnomer and has nothing to do with Russia. The variety of poplar trees was introduced in Kashmir in 1982 from the US. 

Locally called as Russi Frass, the species takes less time (10-15 years) to grow, as compared to the Kashmir poplar that takes 30-40 years. However, experts say that the Kashmiri Poplar is harmless. 

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