Mockery of Supreme Court directive
SILCHAR, July 21: In glaring contrast to the directive of the Supreme Court to all the States to ensure that forests and its wealth are protected and not exploited vide Forest Conservation Act of 1980 redefined in 1996, in Barak Valley, it is a different story. Forests across the valley are in vanishing mode. Bhuvan Hills, Hawaithang and Dholai in Cachar, Gharmoora range in Hailakandi, Daholia, Cheragi and Patharia in Karimganj are being denuded of their forest cover. Mafias are active and are becoming bolder in axing trees indiscriminately as if the forest areas, under threat, are their fiefdom. Minister of Forests, Rakibul Hussain talks tough to deal with the timber-tycoons and smugglers, but stops short of moving ahead.
Two journalists attached to the local media houses, Amir Hussain and Rajiv Hussain Laskar, were threatened recently with dire consequences if they continued to write about the destruction of forests or felling of trees in Dholai and Hawaithang, close to Mizoram. The phenomenon is not new, but the mafias look stronger enough to rule the roost and dictate their way. Silchar Press Club, Journalists’ Federation of Assam and South Assam Press Club have condemned the threat held out against the scribes.
After Shipra Goon, All India Secretary of BJP Mahila Morcha, raising her accusing finger at the supporters of Siddeque Ahmed for encroaching vast areas of forest land in Patharia range of Karimganj district, veteran and distinguished leader, Muqtadir Chowdhury, AIUDF vice-president, and former Congress minister, said that 31 sq km stretches of forests in Patharia have been illegally and forcefully occupied. He has specifically identified the areas as extending from pillar 1377 to sub pillar 6 that includes Satragul, Sonatala and Dhubri. Further, it extends to Adamtila up Mohanpur parallel to Bangladesh border.
It is most unfortunate that though on the basis of complaint, the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment in the early part of June, the Chief Conservator of Forests of the Ministry based at Shillong was directed by M Geetanjali, Assistant Inspector General of Forests, to conduct a field inspection and to send a specific factual report on the matter for the perusal of the Union Minister, nothing till date has been seen on the ground, alleged Muqtadhir Chowdhury.
Even written complaints with graphic details in respect of Patharia have been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, but without any tangible result, AIUDF leader rued. The State Government and its forest department are maintaining silence. Is it jungle-raj, he asked and has raised the question where is Assam heading for? Aggrieved and peeved, he said total chaos and anarchy prevails in the State. The silence of Gogoi Government can’t but be viewed with concern by all citizens across the valley for the signal that emerges does not augur well for the future, he pointed. Muqtadir Chowdhury said after initial hue and cry, everything has fallen silent.
The otherwise cool and composed leader disillusioned with Congress after his more than two decade of association with the party joined AIUDF and contested unsuccessfully in the last Assembly elections of 2011. He could not hide his feelings when he lambasted Gogoi government as being most incompetent and corrupt. It should have rather come forward on its own to cause the investigation by the Chief Conservator of Forests.
Muqtadir Chowdhury said it is really strange when the state forest department started operation to free the land in Patharia from encroachers, a strong mob armed with all sorts of handy missiles led by an influential Congress leader stood on the way and even threatened them with dire consequences. The lands freed, he alleged, are again being occupied by the henchmen of the Minister of Border Area Development.
Still as he said 782 bighas of land in Patharia range are under illegal occupation. Information is that 900 bighas in addition are also under occupation. According to a rough estimate, the forest department has suffered a revenue loss of Rs 96 lakh due to encroachment. Teak trees worth lakhs of rupees have been felled. If this process of encroachment of forest lands continue, what is the future, ask concerned citizens. Still amazing, surfeit of NGOs claiming themselves to campaign for and protect nature, forests and environment under state patronage and with enormous funds have not yet uttered a single word of concern or made any effort to build up public opinion against the unabated felling of trees and destruction of forests across the valley. Their primary concern seems to receive fund and organize seminars and symposiums or at best flower-shows.