Budgam: Notwithstanding its tall claims on forest protection, the government in Indian Kashmir has been unable to check the vandalisation of green-gold by timber smugglers in different forest ranges of central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
Smugglers go scot free as they cut trees with impunity in forest areas of Raithan, Beerwah and Chadoora. Shockingly, the rampant loot is going on right under the nose of authorities.
In Raithan, Divisional Forest officer (DFO) office is close to the forest area where the timber smugglers are active.
Likewise in Chadoora, district range headquarter is situated near the forests. Beerwah forest range also witnesses vandalization despite the presence of Forest Protection Force personnel.
“In the name of the forest protection, some horses carrying illegal timber are occasionally seized to gain publicity and when the news dies down, they too are released unofficially. It has only encouraged timber smuggling with top district forest officials including DFO least bothered about the damage,” alleged Muhammad Ramzaan, a government employee.
“There is definitely a nexus between top officials of the division and the smugglers otherwise such a rampant smuggling is not possible,” said a shopkeeper, Shafiq Ahmad.
Villagers alleged that on some occasion the felling of trees continues for many days and at times 10 to 20 trees are cut in a day.
“At least 100 to 200 smugglers are active in the range. And hundreds of horses carrying timber move out of the area daily,” they alleged, adding that the smuggling has been encouraged by inaction on part of the concerned authorities.
The smugglers burn the tree stumps to give an impression that the tress have been cut long back and are old. At many places locals alleged that one of the main reason for smuggling was the “rude behavior” of the authorities.
“The DFO harasses the applicants who approach his office for sanction of timber and threatens to lodge them in police station. Dejected, the applicants are then left with no option but to approach the timber smugglers,” said Ghulam Nabi.
The situation is worse in the forest areas of the Chadoora range also known as Doodganga forest range. The locals blame authorities for the menace. “The smuggled timber passes through the district range headquarters at Chadoora to Srinagar for sale,” they alleged.
According to sources, the police officials catch the smugglers but after taking bribes set them free.
“There is a proper set deal for the smugglers. If their trap becomes public then they are being jailed and if not then authorities on the spot accept the bribe and set them free,” said a police official, wishing anonymity.
He added that Chadoora, Magam and Khag areas of the district have highest number of active smugglers.
Talking to Agence India Press, Chief Conservator Forests Kashmir, Shafat Ahmad said, “We have been getting complaints about some areas. I had deputed special DFO to Budgam and Shopian so that the menace is checked. We have constituted a protection team to take care of such complaints and if any staffer is found guilty he will be dealt with stringent punishment.”
“Whenever we get such complaints we take the cognizance and act on it, but we want people should support us to control this growing menace,” he added.
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