Felling of 234 trees on century-old college campus distresses many in Kashmir

Felling of 234 trees on century-old college campus distresses many in Kashmir

The poplar avenue of Amar Singh College, Srinagar (left); after the felling of the trees (right). Photo courtesy: Junaid Dar

The felling of 234 trees on the 111-year-old campus of Amar Singh College in Srinagar, which secured the Award of Merit in the 2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation for its restoration after the 2014 floods, has triggered a furore among locals in Kashmir.

Around 182 trees were planted many decades ago to create an avenue of poplars in front of the main façade of the building; they had grown to a height of 20-30 feet. The trees lent a distinctive character to the heritage stone-and-brick structure in an Indo-British style of architecture. The highly ornamental building has gauged, handmade ‘rubber’ bricks, stylistically influenced by the then prevailing colonial trends in the region. The college, established in 1913, is also home to rare paintings and murals.

“First, they constructed a high masonry wall when the [original] plain chain link fence was transparent and looked good. Now this disaster. Wish someone would get fired for this act of vandalism. How could they do away with the poplar avenue?” Hakim Sameer Hamdani, design director of INTACH Kashmir said.

The poplar avenue was an attraction in the college built over 30,000 square metres. Besides setting a stage for local artists to shoot songs and films against its backdrop, Bollywood films, including Laila Majnu and Lal Singh Chaddha were shot on the campus.

Scores of alumni took to social media to criticise the college’s move. “The so-called ‘development administration’ has cold-heartedly butchered the aesthetics of Amar Singh College, my beloved alma mater, by mercilessly axing the picturesque poplar tree tunnel. My heart sinks seeing images of what was once a serene haven, where I cherished my college days, now ruthlessly stripped of its greenery. The shameless destruction of our beautiful landscapes is unforgivable,” Junaid Dar, a former student who works as a journalist, wrote on X. 

“It’s disheartening to witness the destruction of such natural beauty in the name of development. Preserving the environment and maintaining the aesthetic appeal of places like Amar Singh College should be a priority. It’s indeed a shame that such actions were allowed to happen,” netizen Sahil Parray posted on social media platform X.

However, Sheikh Ajaz Bashir, Principal of Amar Singh College, defended the move. “These trees had grown old and posed a threat to even students. These trees were dangerous, especially during windy weather,” Prof. Bashir said.  

Officials said that out of the 182 poplars, only 59 had been declared “dry” by the J&K Forest Development Corporation Limited.

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