GUWAHATI/MIRZA, June 14: For over a week, the Forest department has been in the news for the wrong reasons, leaving its already murky image tattered in the public eye. Having newly taken charge of the department, Forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma herself got a taste of the machitions of forest officials at Kaziranga rencently. It took foresters 48 hours to find the carcass of a rhino gunned down by poachers, even as they blocked the minister’s attempt to visit the site. This was followed by anti-corruption sleuths catching the Dhemaji DFO red-handed extorting money from truckers, and then seizing cash worth crores and animal parts in his two residences.
It has now come to light that entire forests in the West Kamrup Forest Division are disappearing fast, with the timber mafia in cahoots with corrupt foresters cutting down numerous valuable trees. Recently a team of jourlists got to see first hand the rampant loot going on in Kawashing mountain on the Assam-Meghalaya border, in the part of forest that comes within Loharghat range office under West Kamrup Forest Division. Reaching the site with the help of local people, the scribes witnessed stumps of many valuable trees like sal, segun and ahu felled by the timber mafia.
However, forest officials posted there have been turning a blind eye to this rampant tree felling, local people alleged. In particular, the range officer’s role has raised the people’s suspicion. DFO Mril Baruah too has been allegedly soft on rogue forest rangers. Only last month, local people seized a truck loaded with illegally felled trees in Mateikhar area, and turned it over to Loharghat forest officials. “At this rate, Kawashing mountain may go bald soon with not a single tree left standing,” rued a local villager.
Not just Loharghat forest, the very existence of other forests under West Kamrup Forest Division too are under threat. In the wee hours on June 11 last, Puthimari villagers seized a truck (license plate number AS-25-AC 8203) loaded with illegal timber barely 3 kms from Bamunigaon range office on NH 37, and turned it over to forest officials. Around a month back, a large number of trees were felled overnight on Ambari mountain under Bamunigaon range office. Local villagers now fear that this mountain too may be left entirely treeless in the near future. Allegations are rife about the suspect role of range officer Jiten Das, who has maged to hold on to this same posting for years altogether.
Meanwhile, South Kamrup deputy commissioner Rajeev Prakash Baruah today seized 10 boats and a truck laden with sand at Gumi area, where the sand mafia is said to have been operating brazenly.
If this is how the timber, animal parts and sand mafias are ruling the roost hand-in-glove with corrupt forest officials, the threat to vast swathes of the State’s forest cover is very real. How Forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma measures up to this threat and cracks the whip on rogue officials in her department will be watched with keen interest in the coming days.