Timber Smugglers Loot Kashmir’s Forests During Pandemic Lockdown

by GoNews Desk 11 months ago Views 1105

Timber Smugglers Loot Kashmir’s Forests During Pan
A steep rise in recovered timber and complaints from across the insurgency-affected region point to a spike in illegal tree felling in Kashmir.

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When a group of bureaucrats and policemen trekked through dense woods in south Kashmir recently, it was a departure from the usual engagements between insurgents and government forces. Instead, it aimed to stem a sudden upsurge in timber smuggling.

Raghav Langer, the deputy commissioner (DC) of Pulwama, had been “surprised” to see the rapid felling of trees in the Sangerwani forest range.

The team trekked almost 30 kilometres deep inside the forest to get an idea of the illegal activities being carried out. “Some of the locals also informed the DC that no forest official has ever visited the area to curb such activities,” the official statement released by the DC’s office said.

The fact-finders admitted that during the field visit to the Namblan and Anderwali forest blocks of the Sangerwani belt, they saw many felled pine trees.

“What we saw there was a sight of a tree massacre,” an official who had made the trip said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Smugglers have hit us quite badly in this lockdown.” Such is the damage that the authorities had to get drones into action to assess it.

Kashmir’s Chief Conservator of Forests, Farooq Gillani, conducts inspection of South Kashmir forests after many complaints of timber smuggling [image courtesy: Jammu and Kashmir Department of Information and Public Relations]

Plunder during the pandemic

Taking advantage of the ongoing lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, timber smugglers in Kashmir are having a field day. For the past two months, there has been rampant felling of pine trees in different forest ranges, particularly in south Kashmir.

This is not just happening in Pulwama; reports emanating from all other districts of Kashmir point towards a flourishing timber-smuggling operation.

The forest department has struggled to put effective tree-protection mechanisms in place. “At least 50 to 80 smugglers are active in our forest range,” said Mohammad Ramzan, a resident of Kupwara. “Hundreds of horses carrying timber move out of the area daily.”

Ramzan said that smugglers burn the tree stumps to give an impression that the trees have been cut long ago and are old. The locals blame the authorities for what is going on.

Smugglers burn the tree stumps to give an impression that the trees have been cut long ago [image courtesy: forest department of North Circle, North Kashmir]

“Due to the ongoing lockdown, the police and forest guards aren’t able to guard the forests properly and the smugglers are continuing unabated looting of the forests,” said Mohammad Rizwan, a resident of Kudara in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

Rizwan said that even after some guards were deployed in response to many complaints, they were not able to handle the situation by themselves.

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