Illegal band sawmills posed a threat to forest reserves of Assam

Band sawmills and sizing saw machines posed a threat to the Forest Department in checking the depletion of forest cover.
Illegal band sawmills posed a threat to forest reserves of Assam


GUWAHATI: Band sawmills and sizing saw machines posed a threat to the Forest Department in checking the depletion of forest cover. Yet authorities continue to turn a deaf ear to the repeated requests from the Forest department for taking tangible measures.

The band sawmills need very small paces for their operations. Such mills are portable too. These two advantages make such saw machines quite handy for the timber mafia who are destroying the reserve forests in Goalpara, Kamrup West and Kamrup North Forest Divisions in lower Assam. Timber mafia in sars and remote areas own band sawmills and play a notorious role in the depletion of forest cover in the State.

A letter from the Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF), Assam Central Circle, to the Kamrup Deputy Commissioner last week speaks volumes of the enormity of the threat to the forest cover. The CCF said that several illegal band sawmills have sprung up in the riverine areas of Chhaygaon, Nagarbera, Goroimari, Champupara and along the Assam-Meghalaya border, posing a threat to the forest cover in the district.

According to Assam Wood-based Industries (Establishment and Regulations) Rules, 2000, barring in permitted areas, one cannot set up or operate a band sawmill. However, a section of miscreants uses band sawmills in the areas mentioned above on a massive scale. According to the CCF's letter to the Kamrup Deputy Commissioner, the Forest Department seized 57 illegal band sawmills in the past few months in the district. And only one of them is a licensed one. The CCF said that for the sake of the forest cover, the District Administration should act against the wrongdoers immediately.

The band sawmills have sprung up in all the sars in lower Assam. Despite the seizure of such sawmills and timber almost every day, the Forest department could not solve the menace.

Since last year Goalpara Forest Division has dismantled 24 band sawmills. Kamrup North and Kamrup West Divisions also seized 22 band sawmills each. Band sawmills are the dens that saw all illegal timbers in the State. Most of such sawmills do a roaring business from sar areas.

As per the directive of the Supreme Court of India, no Forest department can issue licences to a band sawmill. However, sources said that the State government had issued licences to two factories, one each in Tinsukia and Nagaon, for manufacturing parts of band sawmills, thereby negating the Apex Court's ban. The worst is that there is no mechanism in the State to monitor people buying parts of band sawmills and for what purposes.

The sizing saw machines have a different story. These machines were also banned earlier. However, sources said that in 2016-17 the Forest Department had allowed 1,000 timber depots to install saw machines to give timber in tailor-made pieces to the customers.

The Department allows timber depots to buy and stock timber from other States as well. Taking that advantage, a section of the depots started sawing illegal timbers too by misusing the sizing saw machines. And the Department doesn't have adequate staff strength to check such illegalities.

Strangely enough, there is no news regarding the seizure and dismantling of band sawmills in the reserve forests in the upper Assam districts where also the depletion of forest cover is rampant. What does this smack off? Is there a shady deal between the timber mafia and forest officials there?

It is high time the Government took something tangible to solve the menace, or else the plantation drives in the State would bear no fruits.

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