Green cover shrinks as corrupt foresters join hands with timber mafia
BY OUR STAFF REPORTER
GUWAHATI, March 1: The forest cover in Assam is under threat as timber smuggling at the behest of a section of corrupt forest officials and guards, continues ubated in different parts of the State.
The illegal trade has flourished despite a Supreme Court ban, primarily because of the absence of an effective and cohesive joint mechanism to curb illegal timber felling.
Illegal timber smuggling has taken an enormous toll not only in the interior areas of the State, but also in areas near the capital city Guwahati. Timber smugglers allegedly in collusion with a section of forest officials, are plundering the green cover of Rani forest under East Kamrup Forest Division, as well as Loharghat forest under West Kamrup forest division.
A large part of the forest cover in the Rani and Loharghat ranges has been denuded over the last few years, with the Forest department playing the role of a mute spectator.
Local people alleged that a section of forest officials of East Kamrup forest division are colluding with timber smugglers highly active in the area. These timber smugglers are also reported to have very good relations with some forest officials of Sukurberia beat office and Rani range office under East Kamrup forest division.
An area med Jaisal falling under Sukurberia beat office jurisdiction is the most affected. Huge number of Segun trees at the Jaisal area have been felled by timber smugglers in the last two months, sources said.
Trees are felled in these forest reserves during the winters and kept ready for the rainy season. As the rains start, the logs are tied up in rafts and sent down the river by well-trained hands. Once these rafts reach the destition, the logs are cut into pieces and processed in illegal saw mills.
Rani forest ranger Rabin Baishya has completely failed to curb timber smuggling in the area. Local people alleged that such rampant felling of trees is not possible without a thriving nexus between forest officials and timber smugglers.
A similar situation prevails in Loharghat forest range. Illegal timber trade is flourishing at Muduki area under Loharghat forest range. Local people there alleged that some forest officials in the area are minting money by doing business with timber smugglers active in the area. They have also criticised the role of the Loharghat forest ranger Kushal Deka.
Illegal timber business has affected the green canopy of the State to a large extent. There are several allegations of involvement of timber mafia, politicians and a section of corrupt and unscrupulous senior officials of the Forest Department.
During the winters, timber smuggling goes down considerably as it is difficult to ferry the consignments on rafts across a dry Brahmaputra. Timber smugglers prefer the river route, sources said. However, with the advent of the rainy season and the Brahmaputra in spate, the entire focus shifts back to the illegal trade.
Local people living in areas under the East and West Kamrup forest divisions complained that despite several appeals to the former State Forest and Environment minister Rockybul Hussain to curb timber smuggling in these areas, no steps were taken by him.
According to a Central government report, Assam has lost 2 sq km of forest cover from 2011 to 2013.
The report stated that of the 78,438 sq km of the State’s total geographical area, 27,671 sq km is covered by forest. Of the total forest cover in the State, 1,444 sq km of area is covered by very dense forest, 11,345 sq km is covered by moderately dense forest and 14,882 sq km is covered by open forest. But in 2011, 1,444 sq km of area in the State was covered by very dense forest, 11,404 sq km was covered by moderately dense forest and 14,825 sq km was covered by open forest.