Shiv Kumar Padha
There was one famous Dogri prayer which was often sung in every school of dogri speaking belt during the morning assembly. The prayer goes like, Surge neya des Dogra ede ge gun gage….., Mouj Baharan Raliye Karge Bhag Ne Isde Jagey with the Stanza ‘Sona Chandi Loha Cola Tamba Ithe Onde-Bhi Bi Kok Gareebi Katan Eh Daso Bas Kode’. Really, like other districts of Jammu and Kashmir, the bountiful nature has gifted district Kathua with the enormous wealth of beauty, attractive landscapes, green pastures, rattling brooks, minerals, flora and fauna. Now it is up to the people and the popular governments either to develop, decorate, utilise this valuable natural wealth for the welfare of the masses like the obedient sons of the land or let it waste un utilised like the prodigal one.
The climate of the district varies from subtropical of command area blocks like Barnoti and Gagwal to temperate and polar type climate of Bani i.e. Mini Kashmir of the district Kathua. There are two forest divisions one at Kathua and the other at Billawar. In addition to these divisions there is one wild life division in Kathua District with a 10.04 Sq. Kms. wild life sanctuary at Jasrota forests. The Kathua Forest Division is spread over an area of 467.27 Sq. kms whereas division Billawer occupies an area of 642.47 Sq. Kms. Alone Tehsil Bani has 66 per cent of its total geographical area under forest cover which is more than any other forest area in Jammu and Kashmir. The forests of Kathua District abound in valuable and useful trees, bushes, herbs, medicinal plants which are valued at very high prices in national and international markets. The forests are rich with 178 plant, 10 wild life and 71 bird species. The main tree species which grow in Billawer Division in general and Bani area in particular are Deodar, Chir, Oak, Kail, Khair, Ban Khode, Khadak, Shehtoot, Akhrot, popular, Prunusbaddus, Kenth, Cheo, Rasount bush and Dhaman. Apart from the valuable trees the forests of Bani are rich in the yield of valuable herbs and medicinal plants used in the preparation of the lifesaving drugs such as Kood, Pateesh, Dhoop, Beladona, Mushak Bala, Kinse, Kuth, Banafsha, Jangliajwain, Mentha vulgaris, Bhang, Brahmi, vitis, Straw berry, mushrooms and last but not the least Orchis Latifolia. Black bear, samber, antelope, leopard, musk deer, pigged, wild cats, rabits, wild boar, porcupine and many aquatic birds are found in abundance in the forests of Bani, Basohli and Billawer.
There are rich deposits of minerals and metals spread all over the large area of Kathua district especially in Bani and Basohli Tehsils. There are large deposits of grade lime stone and Quartse in Siara belt of Basohli, low grade iron deposits in Lohai, Malhar and Chandiar, gypsum deposits in Daulla (Bani), slates in Duggan Nallah (Bani), bentonite available in Surrara (Hiranagar), alum exists in SeraiNallah near Ram Kote and Ujh river and fullersearth (useful in making of drugs, cement and plaster) is also available in the district Kathua.
The apples grown in Bani area are known for their sweetness, juiciness, and crispiness and are not inferior or second to any apple crop grown in Jammu Kashmir or Himachal Pardesh. But owing to the discriminatory behaviour of the State government the Bani apple crop is meted out a step motherly treatment as compared to the VIP treatment given to the apple crop of Kashmir right from blossoming to the harvest stage. The whole Horticulture Department of the State is pressed into service for ensuring world class quality of the Kashmir apples whereas the Bani apples are not cared at all and are spoiled on the trees due to the negligence of the department with the result Bani apples don’t find the buyers beyond the markets of Basohli, Mahanpur and Bilawar. Besides apple crop there is a good crop of lemon, citreous fruit, grapes, leechi, walnuts, almonds, plum, bagu, peaches and Khobani produced in Kathua district.
Bani, Basohli and Billawer Tehsils of district Kathua have got rich tourist potential in the State and have all the qualities of becoming a tourist hub in Jammu province. The tall waving Deodar trees, the cold waters of the brooks, cool breeze, springs of mineral water, cascades, lush green pastures, snow clad mountain peaks and meadows have immense power of attracting the tourists. Sarthal, Lowng, Dhaggar, ChallaDhar, Banjal Gala and Sandroon all located in Bani are the picturesque places and possess all that which makes these places a first choice of the visitors. Dhar Mahanpu, Sanan Ghat, Siara, old ruined palaces and monuments of Basohli, water sports and water tourim in RSD, Macchedi, Lohai, Malhar have got full potential of tourist development in the district. Besides places of tourism there are places of worship in the district where lakhs of devotees throng to pay their obeisance before, Mata Sukrala, Jaurian Mata, Daulla Mata, Nuk Nali Mata Shakti Mata and Reosar Mata (Seetla Mata) and Mata Jasrotawali all located in district Kathua.
In spite of the immense wealth gifted by the bountiful nature to district Kathua the natives of the district are still reeling under poverty, un-employment and illiteracy and are still craving for health, educational and connectivity facilities. Who is responsible for the sufferings of the people? Certainly none other than the governmental agencies which are lost in the deep slumber careless about the wealth which the nature has provided to be utilised for the uplift and prosperity of mankind. It is, therefore, the duty of the government to explore the possibilities for the extraction of the minerals found in the district and utilise them for the benefit of the people. The development of tourism in the district will help boost the economy of the people and create new avenues of employment not only in the district but throughout the State. The Horticulture Department must be entrusted with task of improvement of the fruit crop especially of the apple in Bani, Macchedi and Lohai so that the apple grown in these areas can beat their Kashmiri counterpart not only in the State but in the national markets. Let us translate the ideas of the writer of the prayer ‘Sona Chandi Loha Cola Tamba Itheh Onde-Bhi Bi Lok Gareebi Katan Eh Daso Bas Kode.’in reality.