The Uttarakhand forest department recovered over 4,000 logs of the finest quality of age-old Deodar and Kail trees in Chakrata forest division in a search and seizure operation lasting for ten days, officials said. The raid involved around 150 forest personnel and officials said that they have also unearthed the environmental crimes committed by the “Timber Mafia” over the years.
The illegal timber was recovered from two government schools, a panchayat building, a public water tank, toilets of residential houses, and some of them were even buried underground. It wasn’t easy for the forest teams to recover the timber on a massive scale as they faced resistance from the villagers, and efforts were made to stop their free movement.
The forest officials involved in the operation said prima facie, it appears the illegal felling of trees in the region was going on for years but surprisingly never came to light.
According to forest officials from the Chakrata forest division, their operation began in mid July when they received a tip off about the illegal felling of trees in the Kanasar forest range. Following the confirmation of secret inputs, the forest teams consisting of around 150 forest officials began their search operation around two villages – Binson and Mashak and the operation lasted for 10 days.
On Saturday, the forest department filed a case under the Indian Forest (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act, 2001 and issued a notice to 21 people. These included Keshar Singh Chauhan, principal of a government school in Rajanu, Hari Ram, a resident of Rajanu; Chandiya, Sardar Singh, Sain Singh, Mahabir Singh, Sadhu Singh, Jeet Singh, Surjan Singh, Fateh Singh, Dey Singh (gram pradhan), Rajesh Negi (assistant development officer, panchayat), Surjan Singh, Keshar Singh, Lekh Raj, Bijan Singh, Fakira, all residents of Mashak, and Puran Singh, a resident of Hartad. They have been asked to appear before the investigation officer (IO) in the next seven days to present their side or legal proceedings against them will begin in the court concerned.
Meanwhile, six forest officials of the Kansar range of the Chakrata forest division have been suspended. Mahendra Singh Gusain (range officer), Bhagat Rana (forest beat officer), Shivam Gautam (forest beat officer), Ashish Chandra (section officer/van daroga), Pramod Kumar (section officer/van daroga) and Madan Singh (forest guard) on the basis of their “suspicious role” in nexus.
Mukul Kumar, assistant conservator of forests, said, “Our teams consisting of around 150 personnel conducted our search and seizure operations for 10 days with the assistance of revenue police and recovered over 4,000 logs of Deodar and Kail trees. Many of the logs had turned black. The prima facie evidence suggests that the illegal felling of trees has been going on for years.” He said they have just begun the investigation and kingpins of the organised timber crime could be still roaming free.
He said, “However, it never came to the knowledge of the forest department, mainly because of the lota-namak” (vessel-salt) old age tradition in which villagers are bound to comply with the instructions of the Sayana. We have also booked one Sayana Fateh Singh of Mashak khat (cluster of villages). We never received any complaint for illegal felling of trees in the region. People hesitate to file complaints due to the old age traditions. The region seems to be very calm as if nothing wrong is going on here. It was only after we searched their houses, we could recover the timber.”
Another official, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “Despite adequate powers to the forest officials under the Indian Forest Act, there have been very few attempts to search the timber in cases of illegal felling of trees. The matters are generally settled with just a challan.”
“Illegal timber has a market ranging from local to inter-state trade. Timber is ferried to other states on a large scale and it is not possible for mafia to do so without being hand-in gloves with the department,” he said.
Meanwhile, another case of illegal tree felling came up from Tons Forest Division.
Following complaints in December last year, an internal inquiry was conducted. Subsequently, divisional forest officer (DFO) Subodh Kumar Kala and three other forest rangers were suspended for the illegal cutting of 108 green trees in lots allotted to the Forest Corporation.
Anup Malik, head of forest force, said, “All those who committed wrongdoings will face consequences. There has definitely been a lapse on the part of the department. We will also file an FIR against the contractors of the Forest Corporation who illegally cut the trees.”