GUWAHATI: Chief Minister Himanta Sarma has reminded the forest officials that it behoves them to be in the forest to protect forest resources instead of spending time in headquarters.
The Chief Minister met the top forest officers, including the DFOs (Divisional Forest Officers). Addressing the meeting, the Chief Minister said, "Since your appointment is in the Forest Department, you have to spend maximum time in forest areas to protect the forest cover, check encroachment of forest land, besides checking tree felling. Sitting tight in the headquarters won't serve the purpose. "I keep watch on your activities. How come vast forest areas have gone under encroachment in the presence of the state Forest Department? How come tree felling goes unabated when there is a department? In the past 10-15 years, you planted thousands of saplings. Where is the outcome? It makes amply clear that there are lapses in the department.
"I give you six months. Go to the forest, carry out massive plantation drives and teach the villagers near forest areas how to grow mushrooms, beekeeping and other forest-related vocations. Running after sand, timber, and stone-laden trucks in Guwahati won't serve the purpose. Stop them at their sources.
"The responsibility of DFOs is to safeguard forest lands and resources. To achieve that, you need to eliminate corrupt practices and maintain transparency. Ensure that from now no fresh encroachment takes place. If there is encroachment afresh, don't wait and watch. Act immediately. Free forest lands encroached upon earlier in a systematic way. The government will eliminate the hindrances that you face while doing your duty. "I will meet you again after six months to review your activities. Dedicate yourselves to the duty you have been assigned.
"You need not wait for the timber coming from Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh to check them. It's the duty of the forest officials of the two neighbouring states. We don't have to waste time on that. We are contemplating winding up the forest check-gates at Jorabat, Khanapara, Jalukbari etc., on the National Highway." The forest cover in Assam is 28,327 sq km. However, 3.64 lakh hectares of them are under encroachment. The number of households in encroached forest lands is around 2.05 lakh.