Clearing forests from widespread encroachment is one of the promises the BJP has made to the people of Assam. This will require strict administrative measures, and a refusal to be emotiolly blackmailed by pleas like 'if foreigners can settle on forest tracts, so can indigenous people'. Encroachers, whether aliens or sons of the soil, must be evicted from forests irrespective of votebank concerns. The manner in which the previous State government practically negated the Gauhati High Court order to clear Kaziranga from encroachments, shows the depth of the problem. But a bigger headache is the nexus between forest officials and timber mafia which is chipping away at the State's green cover. According to the latest Forest Survey of India report, Assam lost 48 sq km of forest cover in just two years between 2013 and 2015. A large section of forest officials have completely sold out to the timber mafia. Local residents see this brazen loot day in and out, but mostly they dare not intervene. It takes courage to go up against the ruthless timber mafia. But sometimes, there is public action which gives hope that all is not lost. It happened in Bamunigaon in West Kamrup Forest Division, where local villagers unearthed a clandestine tree-felling racket. In the course of just one night on May 13 last, as many as 59 valuable sal trees were chopped down and smuggled out of the forest. Spotting the stumps of freshly cut trees, nearby villagers raised a hue and cry. The Forest department had to send a probe team, but all this team did was to suspend three lower level staff. Tree felling being a daily affair in this forest division, how come higher officials like the Ranger and the DFO remain blissfully uware of it? When the South Kamrup Deputy Commissioner decided to take a hand and go for a on-site inspection himself, he caught smugglers red-handed taking out logs from the forest. Even after they were bbed there and then, more smugglers were caught entering the forest in the evening. Such scenes are being ected in forest after forest. The common pattern emerging is a determined, devil-may-care loot of forest resources. This cannot happen without the knowledge, if not cooperation, of foresters bartering away the very forests they are supposed to protect. This is another cancer the new government will have to battle, if it is serious about efficiently maging the State's green cover.
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