From our special correspondent
SILCHAR, Dec 19: A group of timber mafias have been active in the upper reaches of Jirimukh in Lakhipur subdivision of Cachar, according to a reliable source here. The area lies on Assam-Manipur border along river Barak. On its right side are the range of reserve forest that comprise Chotobekra, Borobekra, Bhutankhal, Jatrapur, Bhowmikpara, Choudhurykhal, Gotaikhal, Japradahar, Girgalpunjee, Sibpur and other places. On the left is the forest range of Betalpunjee, Mohankhal, Dupidahar, Chandikhal among others. On Assam-Mizoram border of Cachar lies Kantus reserve forest.
The source adds to say that it is in these reserve forest areas that the timber mafias in the absence of any monitoring or security measures by the Assam forest division have taken full control and advantage of the situation and dictating their own terms in denuding the rich forest resources of the areas for commercial exploitation. Not even a single copper goes into the coffer of the Assam forest department. These mafias work in tandem with the extremist groups still flexing their muscles in the wilderness.
A part of the sale proceeds of forest resources is paid to the extremists as a cover to the mafias. Not only that, the forest department of Manipur which has no stake at all extends all possible help to the timber mafias in exchange of undisclosed sums of money. From all reckoning, the source points out, it is no doubt the mafia raj in the jungles of Assam. It is due to the iccessible hilly areas and the threat of extremists that no forest personnel of Cachar dares go there for counter operation.
Sharing further information, the source says the mafias have engaged 10 to 12 number of elephants in the forest ranges to uproot both mature and immature plants and trees. Along with that goes on chopping off bamboos indiscrimitely. The mafias number around 15, well organized and well protected both by the Manipur forest department and militants. For each bamboo, the mafias pay Rs.3 to Manipur forest staff and Rs.500 for 1 log. The understanding or agreement with the extremists remains unknown.
After trees and bamboos are taken out of the forests in log and bulk, these are anchored at check points of Hmarkhawlien and Fulertal down river Barak. On the strength of the challan issued by the Manipur forest department and a sort of understanding with the Cachar forest department, these are further taken down the river to respective distribution points. There is however no concrete or authentic evidence to indicate the hidden method of operation. But, knowledgeable circles indicate a surprise check by the divisiol forest office here at Silchar will reveal the entire modus operandi.
In fact, the startling revelations about the smuggling out of timber and bamboo came out at a public meeting called by the concerned citizens of Banskandi where it was decided to bring the entire shady business in forest resources to the notice of the higher authorities at Dispur. At the public meeting were also present some mafias who were disgruntled for reasons best known to them. The meeting unimously called for stringent action against those who were exploiting forest resources at the cost of the state exchequer.