Medicinal plants’ smugglers milk Kashmir dry

May 13, 2023
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Srinagar: After trekking for three hours, Rahim (name changed), a 45-year-old forager of Sonmarg, lets out a shriek of joy, as he spots a cluster of medicinal plant species called Trillium Govainum, locally known as ‘Tripather’ on the grassy floor. He digs into the roots gently with a spade and carefully places the bulbs in a cloth bag slung on his shoulder.
Every April and May, he gears up for the trek and extracts around half a gram of the plant bulbs daily. The mountain he has chosen is at an altitude of 2,500 meters, as this is the ideal height, where the healing Himalayan green grows.
Similarly, Razia (name changed), 30, starts her foraging journey annually in June. Her sought-after plant is Fritlaria Roylei, locally known as ‘Sheet Khaar’, which grows abundantly in Gurez Valley, Gulmarg, Lolab, and Hirpora wildlife sanctuary. It is used to treat around 80 ailments.
“We don’t know if it is used for curing diseases. There are no job opportunities for us. We are simply extracting it to make some money out of it. There are plenty of smugglers who need it,” she said.
She, however, noted that they always fear getting caught by the forest guards. “We only sell when we are familiar with the smugglers otherwise there are chances we may be caught,” she said.
Likewise, there are scores of local foragers from other areas of Jammu and Kashmir who go out in the quest of finding rare plant species.
Smugglers send local men and women to the forest to get these plants as it becomes difficult for forest guards to identify these people because they go into forests to collect various things like forest wood and dried leaves.
Kashmir has a rich resource of medicinal plants, which are used in aromatherapy and cosmetics as well as medical treatments. Demand for these plants from Europe, China, Japan, and other nations have made Kashmir a fertile ground for smugglers.
More than 80 percent of the population in developing countries is dependent upon the traditional system of medicine.
According to the official data compiled by the Department of Biodiversity and Taxonomy, Kashmir University, there are 1000 different kinds of medicinal plants available in J&K out of which 300 are endemic –they are found in particular geographical regions. Among them are some high-end plants having high commercial value and are dwindling fast due to huge demand.
Sample this: Trillium, which was earlier a lesser-known medicinal plant in trade, has gained popularity in commercial utilization these days. It is one of the most sought-after medicinal species of the western Himalayan region. However, due to high demand and no significant regeneration, it is declining by the day, as per the official data.
“The underground part of the plant, i.e. rhizome is a key material of trade containing Trillarin which on hydrolysis yields diosgenin and is used in the preparation of steroidal and sex-hormones. It is sold in lakhs internationally,” it says.
Similarly, plant species like Podophylum Hexandum (local name: Vane Wangun), Sasurra Caustus (local name: Koth), Aconitum Heterophulym (local name: Phatrees), Sasurra Sicra (local name: Jueg Badshah) are on the verge of extinction, as per various studies.
A senior researcher at the Kashmir University told The Kashmir Monitor that “overexploitation, habitat destruction, unchecked deforestation and overgrazing as the primary reasons for the declining rate of medicinal plants”.
“The locals get Rs 2500 to 3000 per kilogram of Trillium. It sells at Rs 70,000 per kilogram. Some foreigners come as tourists but carry medicinal plants in their bags. These medicinal plants are being exported in trucks laden with fruits to Chandigarh from where it is being supplied to various parts,” he said.

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Hirra Azmat

When the world fails to make sense, Hirra Azmat seeks solace in words. Both worlds, literary and the physical lend color to her journalism.

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