Unrest in Kashmir proves juicy for jungle smugglers

By Nazir Ganaie,Agence India Press,

Srinagar: With the ongoing unrest taking toll on every sector in Indian Kashmir, the timber smugglers across the valley have been active in vandalizing the green gold even as forest officials claim that the situation is “under control.”

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Timber smugglers have largely benefitted from the restricted movement of forest guards and other officials during the course of unrest in Kashmir. The illegal felling of trees has shown an upward trend and has become so widespread that during the last three months alone, forest officials have seized more than 5000 cubic feet of timber from smugglers in different parts of the valley.

Shockingly, the rampant loot is going on right under the nose of authorities.

In Raithan, Divisional Forest officer (DFO) office is close to the forest area where the timber smugglers are active.

Likewise in Chadoora, district range headquarter is situated near the forests. Beerwah forest range also witnesses vandalization despite the presence of Forest Protection Force personnel.

“The unrest in Kashmir has paved way for the timber smugglers across the valley. They have become so active and are enjoining freedom of looting the green gold,” said Nazir Ahmad Khan of central Kashmir’s district Budgam.

Khan maintained “the negligence of the forest officials and nexus between smuggler and forest officers has worsened the state of forests in Kashmir.”

According to officials, forests in Shopian and Budgam areas are worst hit and timer smuggling has assumed the shape of an illegal but organized trade. Pertinently, one of the biggest forest divisions- the Pir Panchal Division is located in this region.

Smuggling has also increased manifold in North Kashmir forest belts of Ajas Bandipora, Kupwara, Rampur Rajpur forests in Watlab and Zainageer belts of district Baramulla, Special Forest Division of Tangmarg, which includes the dense Gulamarg forests, Rafiabad, Uri, Wagoora, Katianwali and Binner Forests in Baramulla town.

“There is definitely a nexus between top officials of the division and the smugglers otherwise such a rampant smuggling is not possible,” said a student, Afzal Ahmed of north Kashmir’s district Baramulla.

According to sources, the police officials catch the smugglers in various areas but after taking bribes set them free. They said that after poitical intervention, the smugglers go scot free.

“There is a proper set deal for the smugglers. If their trap becomes public then they are being jailed and if not then authorities on the spot accept the bribe and set them free,” wishing anonymity a forest official said.

He added that Chadoora, Magam and Khag areas of the district have highest number of active smugglers.

Meanwhile, while admitting that the illegal felling of trees and smuggling has increased over the last few months, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Shafat Ahmed claims that the situation has now been brought under control.

“I admit that due to restricted movement of the forest staff during the initial days of the unrest some people increased their smuggling activities, but now majority of the forest staff is in the field and all the forest check posts are functional. Earlier our staff received the wrath of smugglers and they couldn’t continue their services,” CCF (Kashmir), Shafat Ahmad told Agence India Press.

He said that the forest department has seized more than 5000 cft of smuggled timber from the smugglers during the last three months alone, Shafat complained of lack of cooperation from people in checking the illegal practice.

“Whenever we get such complaints we take the cognizance and act on it, but we want people should support us to control this growing menace,” he added. (AIP)