Timber smuggling: Forest conservation chief to visit GH

SHILLONG/TURA: Principal Chief Conservator of Forest CP Marak said on Saturday he would visit Garo Hills on Monday and ascertain what happened in the northern district in regard to a report on illegal timber trade and find out the exact place where it was happening.
A report on Saturday said there was illegal felling of trees in North Garo Hills and timber smugglers are exporting these to neighbouring Assam.
“After I visit the place and ascertain the size of the trade I can give the correct picture. The report was not clear,” he told The Shillong Times.
Asked about manpower to monitor the reserve forests in Garo Hills, Marak said the department has well-established vigilance team in such places. However, he said the demand for timber as well as other natural resources is increasing with the boom in population. “Also, there is the porous border with Assam in the northern part of Meghalaya. These are the challenges we have to face,” he added.
Garo organisations have pointed out that timber smuggling has been going on in the region without check. “Passing through the Rangmangre road in North Garo Hills one will see logs of fresh timber left on the roadside for smugglers to transport out,” said NGO member S D Sangma. He alleged such open felling and transport indicated a nexus between the smugglers and officials.
Marak said he had to assess the situation himself as the name of the place mentioned in the report “does not exist in North Garo Hills”.
Meghalaya has lost approximately 115 sq km of forested area in two years as per a report published by the Forest Survey of India in 2017. The destruction included the most densely forested areas, it was mentioned. Garo Hills NGOs are of the view that there is a strong nexus between politicians and government officials with the smugglers.
“If there is no nexus then how can timber be transported so easily without any checks through the state roads?” question the organization leaders.
Asked what steps have been taken by the authorities in the wake of a series of reports on timber smuggling, Marak said, “Any report (on timber smuggling) we get we take it very seriously. We have our conservator in Tura who is already active. Last week, we closed down many sawmills operating clandestinely. We already have mechanisms to check these illegal activities.”
Forest and wildlife teams are having a Herculean task in containing the illegal timber trade and in their pursuit of the timber smugglers have seized several consignments. Despite such pro-active action, smugglers continue with their operations.
In fact, smugglers have been improvising their skills at evasion. From removing vehicle seats of small cars to accommodate timber, concealing the freshly sawn wood hidden in mini trucks and Tata wingers by stacking them with sacks of vegetables, to alleged bribing of officials to get a green light on roads, every attempt is being made by those out to strip Garo Hills of its last green cover.