Forest loot continues unabated in central Kashmir

Forest loot continues unabated in central Kashmir
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BUDGAM: The loot of green gold continues unabated in forest range of central Kashmir’s Budgam as timber smugglers chop off the green trees with impunity and ferry it unhindered for sale posing a serious threat to ecological balance.
The once dense green forests of Poshker and Gogaldara, known for the green wealth of kail and fir trees are fast vanishing. The severely affected forest range is known as “gate-way” to the famous tourist resort of Tosamaidan. The forest range is hardly 10-15 kilometers away from the Tosamaidan.
“The check-post which was created for stopping the forest loot seems to have surrendered before the smugglers,” Ali Mohammad, a local said.
“The smugglers carry the timber on horsebacks and in vehicles for sale in different areas including Aripanthan, Budran, Magam, and many other places,” said a group of senior citizens here.
“Smugglers can be easily trapped, if there is a will. The smuggled timber even passes through the check posts, where the offices of top forest officers are located,” they said, wishing not to be named.
The villagers said the felling of trees and smuggling of timber has increased over the past year. They alleged that there was a nexus between the smugglers and top officials of the Forest Protection Force and the Forest department.
“Many a times, we approached top district officials of the department and urged them to curb the vehicle loot, but nobody paid any heed to our pleas,” said Shabir Ahmad, a local resident.
Flanked by a group of villagers he said sometimes the felling of trees continues for days together in the upper reaches of the forest range. “At least 100 smugglers are active in the range. And 30-40 horses carrying timber move out of the area daily,” they alleged.
The villagers said the smugglers had developed “innovative” methods of smuggling timber. After felling the tree, they burn the tree branches making them look old and then chop and slice the trees to the desired size and shape, villagers said, adding many locals are actively involved in smuggling.
“The authorities concerned provide safe passages for timber smuggling from the area,” they alleged.
A lower rung forest official pleading anonymity for fear of reprisal said that timber smuggling could not be stopped without support from the department’s top brass. There are reports that FPF and Forest officials facilitate timber smuggling. The official didn’t rule out nexus between smugglers and top officials.
Divisional Forest Officer (forest division) Tangmarg Mehraj Ahmad Sheikh he said that he has visited the area recently and the department was putting in place a mechanism to curb the loot of green cover.
“I will make a team who will especially keep an eye on the area and if someone found guilty, he would be dealt with strictly,” Sheikh added.