By Idrees Bukhtiyar 

Village sarpanches say people are compelled to go to the forests to collect gucchi and sell them for higher prices because of the prevailing situation in which many don’t have food or income to survive

Taking undue advantage of the lockdown, smugglers are having a field day collecting morel mushrooms (gucchi) in the forests located in different areas of Kashmir.

Fayaz Ahmad, a resident of Machikrand village in Uri town, said that the smuggling of wild mushrooms was rampant in the area. “This has become a new source of income for the villagers. They are selling it illegally for higher prices,” he said.

“The government must tighten the noose on these people as there are no checks on them in the lockdown period,” said Mir Wali Mohammad, sarpanch of Barnate village in Boniyar tehsil of Baramulla district.

“Last year we booked three persons and an FIR was also registered against the smugglers. A huge quantity of illegal mushrooms was also recovered from them,” said a forest official posted in Boniyar range, requesting anonymity.

Boniyar SHO Tariq Ahmad Shah said a 50-year-old man had recently died after slipping from a mountainous area where he had gone to collect the wild mushrooms.”

“Some villagers hunt for morel mushrooms in the forests of Doodpathri area,” said Tahir Ahmad Najar, a resident of Chadoora village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

“I believe that people are compelled to go to the forests to collect the mushrooms because of the prevailing situation under which many don’t have food or income to survive,” said Raja Abdul Hamid, sarpanch of Dildar village in Karnah tehsil of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

“We are jobless and have no other source of income. Our families rely on these mushrooms only,” said an Uri resident who often goes to collect the morels.

In south Kashmir, these sought-after mushrooms grow in the forests of Daksum and Margun top areas.

Chairman of J&K RTI movement and an environmental expert Dr Ghulam Rasool said, “These mushrooms are sold at around ₹20,000 per kg due to their medicinal properties.”

Morel mushrooms grow mostly in forest areas in the higher reaches of the valley. It is said that they grow naturally whenever it rains and thunders. They grow in conifer forests across temperate regions, and the cool foothills of the Himalayas, in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Jammu & Kashmir are an ideal territory for them.

As edible as button mushrooms, gucchi variety possesses immunostimulatory and anti-tumour properties. With the valley witnessing continuous rains, production of these mushrooms has gone up considerably. The annual production of gucchi goes up to 400 kg here.

People are also making the rounds of the forests to collect timber, wild vegetables and hunt wild birds.

Baramulla senior superintendent of police (SSP) Abdul Qayoom said that they had lodged several cases last year for smuggling of wild produce. “More cases are likely to surface as this season proceeds further,” he said.

Kashmir chief conservator of forests Syed Farooq Gillani said people may be collecting the mushrooms in view of the prevailing troubled situation. “But as of now, we have not received reports of any major damage to the forests and its resources,” he said.

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