Magnificient no more
There is an old Kumaoni song, which goes, "They give us cold water from their roots, the air we breathe in flows from their clumps and the temple they canopy at the top of the hills protects us from all ills. O you beautiful one, do not cut these trees, lest sin should fall on you.' The song is dedicated to the oak tree, an integral part of folk life in the Kumaon hills since ages. Four species are commonly found here: banj oak (quercus leucotrichophora), tilonj oak (quercus floricunda), rianj oak (quercus languinosa) and kharsu oak (quercus semicarfoloia).
The oak line in Kumaon actually begins with the banj oak, at an altitude of 1,650 metres above sea-level. The tree can be found up to an altitude of 2,286 metres. It's an ideal fodder, agricultural implements are made out of oak wood and parts of the tree are valued for its medicinal qualities.
The zealous administration However, this lifeline of Kumaon's ecology might well be extinct soon. Excessive grazing, frequent collection of leaf litter for mixing with compost, as well as burning of leaves by civic bodies in the name of cleanliness inhibit nutrient inputs into soil. Consequently, banj oak regeneration has come to a virtual standstill in Kumaon.
This is not all. The local administration's zeal to develop Nainital as a tourist centre has put paid to scores of banj oaks; many have been axed off to facilitate construction of concrete driveways for tourists.
Moreover, declining livelihood opportunities in the Kumaon villages has led many to migrate to Nainital. Most such people live on the city's margins and depend on oak wood for fuel. In the long Kumaon winters