Here’s How J&K Can Tap into its Biodiversity Potentials

Start with creating Biodiversity centres in select forest villages

IT isn’t very often that we frequent the city outskirts and consciously seek to find offbeat habitations which form the crux of country life. Yet, once you’ve found yourself interested, you’re hooked. These places hold natural treasures and nourish social relations that are unique and diverse. One such habitation situated at the foothills of Pir Panjal range is Darwan Basti; a migratory habitation at the south end of the popular tourist destination Yusmarg.

Darwan Basti hosts a rich assembly of biodiversity. Herbs, wild flowers, medicinal plants and wild vegetables are present here in generous numbers. On a recent visit to Yusmarg, a unique Mushroom called Paenz Ungee (literally meaning Monkey Finger) was brought to us by a man from the Gujjar Community. He’d fetched it from a nearby local forest whose in-and-outs he knew quite well.

It isn’t uncommon for Kashmiris and the Gujjar community in Yusmarg to be familiar with the value of biodiversity around them. The generous Qadeer Doe’s son, who had brought to us Mushrooms, hadn’t brought us anything ordinary. They were the Ramaria Coral Mushrooms, a group of edible mushrooms consumed all around the world. Different studies on the Ramaria and Coral genus have shown it to be of medicinal value.

It isn’t surprising that our surroundings are rich in biodiversity and one that is quite unique. However, very often, as a community we’re unable to tap into the holistic potentials of these reserves.

Forest biodiversity is especially interesting in this regard and there’s a need to create massive awareness around it.

The need to organise and educate around biodiversity isn’t an uncharted venture. Local Biodiversity Management Committees have been constituted with the main aim of maintaining a Peoples Biodiversity Register (PBR) in consultation with the local population. The Register shall contain comprehensive information on availability and knowledge of local biological resources, their medicinal or any other use or any other traditional knowledge associated with them. The BMC which is an elected body is responsible for ensuring the protection of the knowledge recorded in PBR, especially to regulate its access to outside persons and agencies. The BMC has following functions as well

Conservation, sustainable use and access and benefit sharing of biological resources and eco-restoration of the local biodiversity.

  1. B) Feedback/information to the Board and the National Biodiversity.
  2. C) Authority in the matter of Intellectual Property Right (IPR), Traditional Knowledge and local Biodiversity issues. Management of Biodiversity Heritage Sites including Heritage Trees, Animals/Microorganisms etc and Sacred Groves and Sacred Water bodies.
  3. D) Regulation of access to the biological resources and/ or associated Traditional Knowledge, for commercial and research purposes. Conservation of traditional varieties/breeds of economically important plants/animals.
  4. E) Biodiversity Education and Awareness building. Documentation enables procedures to develop bio‐cultural protocols.
  5. F) To advise on any matter referred to by the State Biodiversity Board, Biodiversity Councils (in UTs) for granting approval, maintain data about the local Hakeems, Vaids and practitioners using the biological resources.

J&K has not been oblivious of the need for biodiversity centred campaigns. In essence, Biodiversity Act is all about the importance of maintaining People’s Biodiversity Register at the village level and finding innovative ways to achieve it. For instance, on 1st July 2019, OP Sharma, the former Director State Forest Research Institute (SFRI), organised a food festival cum biodiversity workshop in Yusmarg. The Jalnlekh Khazane te Amekh Khen Chen  (Forest treasure and its Food Festival) was meant to raise awareness about forest biodiversity and finding potential edible value of forest herbs and vegetables.

Additionally, recently, the District Biodiversity Management Committees were also constituted by respective District Development Council Chairpersons in J&K. A workshop on the Biodiversity Act was also organised for district BMC members by the Biodiversity Council. Under the leadership of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr Mohit Gera, who is also the Chairman J&K Biodiversity Council, such ventures are sure to grow. He has agreed on implementing several suggestions like creating master trainers at district level who can be resource persons for conducting training and workshops on Biodiversity Act. Mr Gera has also agreed to link up the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Biodiversity Act so that there is no conflict between the two. As the head of forest force (HoFF), Dr Gera will also utilise the services of the field staff in creating a massive awareness about the Forest Biodiversity.

Migratory habitations like Darwan Basti mentioned priorly and its adjoining Nagbal village are Biodiversity rich areas where a lot of research can be done on forest biodiversity. This is an ideal place for setting up a research centre on Biodiversity especially on forest biodiversity, the success of which would depend on the J&K Biodiversity Council.

Additionally, model Biodiversity villages in J&K can be set up where biodiversity researchers, master trainers and local people with traditional knowledge about medicinal plants, herbs, forest vegetables, berries, insects and animals can work together and do a lot of brainstorming around its preservation and potentials. The local level People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) can also be updated accordingly which can then be digitized (e-PBRs) on the pattern of the one done by the state of Kerala. These model Biodiversity Centres can act as institutions for researchers, university scholars and students as well.

There’s a need for the Forest Department and Biodiversity Council to jointly set up one such centre in every hill district of J&K. To begin with let the first centre be set up at Darwan Basti in Yusmarg.

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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