Huge quantity of logs seized, vehicles detained from various places of district in past one week. Are forest officials hand in glove with timber smugglers?
Guwahati: Amidst reports of recovery of a huge quantity of logs worth lakhs from a ‘chapori’ area under Sadiya sub-division, several timber-laden trucks were detained from different locations of upper Assam’s Tinsukia district over the past one week.
Following such reports, a video recently surfaced on various social media platforms that displayed hundreds of logs lying on the ground at Pengeri under Doomdooma forest division of the district.
In the viral video, a youth is seen alleging that state government, forest department officials are failing to protect the forest cover of the state. He went on to say that the state forest government officials are “behind” cutting down of trees in many locations of the district.
EastMojo managed to track the youth who appeared in the viral video and identified him as Debojit Moran, general secretary of Green Buds Society, an NGO that has been working for conservation of forests for a few years now.
Speaking with EastMojo, Moran revealed that one of his colleagues shot the video almost three months ago when the duo visited a place, nearly 200 metres from Kahatangpani forest range office under the Pengeri circle, and found that hundreds of logs of 'hollong' trees were lying there.
Alleging a nexus of forest department officials with timber mafia operating in the region, he said that upon asking the forest range officer concerned about the recovery of the huge quantity of timber, the official replied to him that the forest department doesn’t know who were behind felling of tress, but were seized from Upper Dehing Reserve forest in the locality.
"Some corrupt forest officials instruct the timber mafia to cut the trees. They later show them as seized logs and hand them back to the mafia through the auction mode," Moran further alleged.
Demanding a CBI inquiry over the incidents to bring out the truth, Moran highlighted that large-scale felling of trees has deforested a vast area of Upper Dehing reserve forest, Tarani reserve forest, Lakhipathar reserve forest, Tinkupani reserve forest and several other forest lands under Doomdooma and Digboi.
Moran further informed that on Friday he came across three large hollong trees chopped off with fresh cut marks at Lakhipathar forest range in the locality.
There are six forest ranges under Doomdooma forest division, namely, Saikhowa, Sadiya, Kakopathar, Kahatangpani, Doomdooma and Protection Squad. Kahatangpani range office covers three reserve forests including Duamara reserve forest, Tarani reserve forest, Buri-Dehing reserve forest along with a part of upper Dehing reserve forest.
Admitting to felling of trees and deforestation taking place, Kahatangpani forest range officer, Hiren Kumar Medok said that illegal felling of trees were rampant in the locality prior to him joining the office in August last year.
Hinting to action initiated in the department under his guidance, Medok told EastMojo that the department has seized nearly 124 logs a few months ago from Tarani reserve forest and it was the spot where Moran shot the video.
"The logs were sent to Makum TTS plant of the forest department for converting it into timber," said Medok and further added that it has been recently auctioned.
Responding to a question by EastMojo, Medok said that no one has been so far identified or arrested for indulging in illegal felling of trees. He, however, personally seized seven vehicles, including trucks, and sent their drivers and handymen to jail.
“I had written to district transport officer (DTO) seeking details of owners of the vehicles and it can lead us to the ‘syndicate’ leading the timber mafia,” Medok added.
He, however, said that his letter to the district transport authorities attracted no response and hence the investigation could not make a breakthrough.
Refuting allegations of a nexus of the forest department with the timber mafia, Medok said that he is by no way involved in any syndicate, but he said he cannot comment on the role of his predecessors and other forest officials in the division.
Pointing out to massive shortage of staff in his office, Medok said that there are only five staff including him to protect three reserve forest from various kind of smugglers and mafia and it is not enough. “One of my staff is paralysed, while another is about to be retired in two months,” Medok said
"When I assumed charge, I witnessed most of the trees had been chopped off in Duamara reserve forest, while deforestation and illegal felling of trees were seen in some pockets of other reserve forests under my jurisdiction," Medok added.
Divisional forest officer of Doomdooma forest division Dilip Deka said that he is on leave as his health is not good and he doesn’t remember of any details as he has assumed charge only three months ago.
Further, Deka said that he is not looking to join back the office at present and will be extending his leave he is all set to be transferred soon.
Similar is the story of several other reserve forests under Digboi forest division including Lakhipathar and Jagun forest range from where reports of large-scale of felling of trees and irreparable loss to depleting green cover is emerging.
Timber mafia network has extended to the neighbouring districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which is known for thick jungles. Namdapha National Park, a tiger reserve, after road connectivity, has improved owing to new bridges.
There are reports of illegally felled logs brought in to Tinsukia from the forests of Namsai, Changlang, Lohit and Lower Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh.
The timber mafia, allegedly having nexus with some forest officials and other concerned departments, are also using the river route to transport logs from one place to other.
Recent recoveries of logs floating in rivers and nullahs in Sadiya on more than one occasion and seizure of logs and timber-laden trucks from Making, Tinsukia and Dibgoi have exposed the unabated jungle plunder, and comes at a time when the Assam government is in denial mode of any syndicate active in the state.
Attempts to speak to Lakhipathar forest ranger and Sadiya forest ranger turned futile.