A report carried by this newspaper on Wednesday brought to light the havoc wrought by the Russian poplars in parts of the city. Hundreds of sick and elderly have contracted allergies as a result of the pollen produced by populous deltoidsthe female poplar. In one case, families have temporarily shifted from the areas around Khushhal Sar to save themselves from pollen allergy. According to local residents, thousands of poplars have been planted on the banks of the dying lake in defiance of the standing court order which has explicitly banned their cultivation.
In its June 2015 order, the High Court had observed that it was a “common knowledge that pollen seeds of this poplar species adversely affect health of the general public, mostly of elderly people and children, adding that the pollen seeds of these trees had given rise to chest diseases in the Kashmir valley. The court thus ordered the non-native poplars eradication from Kashmir. But as Khushhal Sar development makes it clear the court order has been observed in breach. According to the residents the administration has done nothing despite the issue being brought to the notice of the divisional commissioner. They have now urged the High Court to take suo moto cognizance of the grave issue in public interest.
The Russian poplar brought from the US was introduced in Kashmir in 1982 as part of the Social Forestry Scheme. The reason for this was that it takes less than 15 years to mature as compared to 40 years for the Kashmiri poplar. So, it is considered quite lucrative in the timber trade. According to an estimate, there are about 20 million Russian poplars in the Valley now and their population is growing every year.
Every year as the spring arrives in the Valley the Russian poplars start pollinating and release their cotton fluff into the air, thousands of people are taken ill. People are afflicted with allergies with symptoms ranging from congestion, runny or itchy nose, sneezing etc. The elderly and children are more prone to the infection. This leads to a substantial rise in the number of patients visiting hospitals which in turn leads to a spike in the sale of the anti-allergic medicines. An estimate puts the increase in sales at 25 percent. At least 45 registered and many unregistered pharmaceutical companies reportedly sell such drugs under different brands, at different prices. This has created an entrenched vested interest around the Russian poplars which works against their eradication.
It has been around five years since High Court order banning the cultivation of these poplars but far from any reduction in their population, the trees are only growing in number. It is time that the government acts tough and works to eradicate the menace in the Valley. And it is also time for the High Court to supervise the implementation of its order as it did in case of the trees planted inside the Dal lake.