Locals allege nexus between smugglers, forest officials
Baramulla: Notwithstanding the forest department’s efforts on plantation drives and fencing of forests, the loot of green gold continues in Rafiabad, Sopore and Uri forest ranges in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
According to locals, not only are smugglers cutting down trees, but several people in Rafiabad and Uri are encroaching the forest lands and planting apple and other trees there.
“The concerned officials of the forest department are busy counting their profit which they are earning from smugglers and government’s various centrally-sponsored schemes meant for the protection of forests,” the locals alleged.
On Saturday night, the Forest Protection Force (FPF) seized a Tata mobile vehicle laden with illicit timber on Rafiabad-Baramulla road near Jahama village. Two smugglers were held. However, it could not be yet officially confirmed as to how much timber was seized.
Also, a few days ago, a tipper full of illicit timber was seized by the same forces in the same area. However, the smugglers escaped from the spot. While the department registered case against smugglers, it has failed to identify or arrest them.
Every day, dozens of vehicles carrying illicit timber come from upper belt of Rafiabad which is meant for construction of new styled multi-storeyed hotels and other houses and buildings in urban areas. Mostly, the timber is meant for people constructing houses on Baramulla-Srinagar highway.
Sources in the forest department said that recently a person constructed a tin shed in forest lands in Limber area of Uri and the department has failed to retrieve the land from him.
They said the situation in Sopore forest areas is no different as “every day several vehicles carrying illicit timber are passing by and officials fail to stop most of them”.
“Some people are burning forests including the giant trees. They are clearing lands for grazing of their cattle near forest areas while officials continue to be in deep slumber,” they said.
Fifteen fire incidents were reported in forest areas in the past six months with most of them taking place in Uri and Sopore.