“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Zeenat says it is business as usual for the timber smuggling mafia

(Ms. Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, 27, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She did her schooling from King George (Mumbai) and later Cambridge (New Delhi), and received her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kashmir in 2008. Presently, she is also pursuing her second Masters degree in Mass Communications through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In 1998, she began her career as a freelance journalist with leading national newspapers and simultaneously joined ‘Fazil Kashmiri Publications’ as Editor and Publisher, and is also an editor of the ‘Focus’. Ms. Fazil has written a book on Mass Media and Linguistics (2006), and ‘Falcons of Paradise'(2009), a reference book contains 100 Eminent Personalities of J&K starting from 14th century till date. After working for ‘Daily Etaalat’- a Srinagar based Newspaper in 2007-2008; she joined ‘Daily Kashmir Images’ as a Senior Correspondent by the end of 2008. She is also currently associated with ‘Charkha’, a foundation that highlights the developmental concerns of marginalized section of Kashmiri society particularly in rural areas and to draw out perspectives on women through their writings. Ms. Fazil is also associated with ‘Interchurch Peace Council Netherlands’ which is intensely involved in several conflict areas such as in Kashmir. In 2009, she joined the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). She has received numerous awards for her meritorious contribution in the field of literature. Her interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel,and gender related topics.)

Timber Smuggling Going Non-Stop in South Kashmir

Srinagar: Timber smuggling is going non stop in various areas of South Kashmir and concerned authorities are winking at the smugglers. According to the locals, Byari Angan, Watrasu, Sheikh Pora, Pathribal Forests and Pandal Bal in Kokernag area have experienced a high degree of forest damage. The smugglers fell green trees particularly during night hours and sometimes even in the broad daylight and ferry them on horses for sale in the adjoining villages, the locals said.

“The thick forests here are fast depleting. The smugglers ferry the timber on horse back and sometimes on their shoulders and cross several villages without any inhibition. They later sell the timber in diverse parts of the district and other areas of the Valley Kashmir,” said Abdul Majid of Watrusu.

Felling of lush green trees is also going on unabated in compartment No 66-67 of Gudhar forest range of Kachwar area of Kulgam “The timber smugglers are chopping the trees without any hesitation”, said Ali Mir of Kachwar village. The villagers alleged that the officials have completely failed to stop the cutting of trees.

The picturesque Kalihar of Daksum, (compartment no 27-28) falling in range Islamabad (Anantnag) has no different story. Last time a major fire erupted in these compartments of Daksum forest range. The fire spread in other compartments which damaged hundreds of trees in the range. If locals are to be believed, it were the smugglers who put these compartments on fire.

“There is a nexus between smugglers and the forest personnel and these things are happening under their nose,” the residents said and asked the government to initiate action against the officials conniving with the smugglers. “The officials of Forest Department and Forest Protection Force, are in complete know how about the axing of trees. However, they are not taking any stringent action against the smugglers and are giving them free hand,” the residents of the area told Kashmir Images’ adding that the vehicles carrying illicit timber cross the check points established by the Forest department without any hassles. “In the coming years, we won’t see forest cover in the area if immediate measures are not taken,” lamented Sharif uddin of Kokernag area.

Smugglers have almost shaved off Chiralla Forest Range. The worst hit here is Compartment No 1, 2 and 7. The story is no different in Lidder division where felling of trees is going on in compartment no 1-2, in Goriwan compartment no 4, in Sonuch Rakh area of Ranipora (Achabal range) compartment no 107.

The areas that suffered irretrievable damage include, Akhal Block of Briyal Lamad in Kokernag area, Souf-Shali in Zalangam and Sona Byari in Magam area of South Kashmir. In Verinag timber smuggling during the night hours is going on at Phal Halsidar, Thaman and Kapram.

A forest official privately told this newspaper “proper awareness about forests among the public is lacking. Besides the department also lacks man power to tackle the problem, he said adding “mugglers cut trees ruthlessly and do not follow any scientific procedure with the result large tracts are denuded which becomes hard for the forest people to treat afterwards. In order to curb smuggling, smugglers should be dealt with seriously under law. Most importantly social and economic enlistment of these smugglers is needed which can be done under employment schemes,” he said.

The official stressed for revival of Forest Development Agencies for participation of the locals in conservation, development and management of forests. The scheme however has failed miserably because of indifferent approach of higher ups in the forest department. The scheme could have ensured provision of livelihood to the people against their participation.

Smuggling can also be engaged under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) that aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year, say the experts. Under NREGA there is a provision of 46 percent of total amount of the scheme for soil conservation activities. The rural development department is almost reluctant to take assistance from the forest department for execution of this part.

“Last year, Forest Division of Kupwara submitted a project of rupees. 2.25 Crore under NREGA for soil conservation activities to District Development Commissioner. But the project is still to be approved, a forest official wishing anonymity said. Forest higher-ups lack resolve otherwise we could have easily engaged them in other schemes including medicinal plants or in eco tourism projects, he said adding “ unless we don’t engage them under certain schemes, smuggling will continue,”

The minister for Forest and Environment, Mian Altaf Ahmad could not be contacted despite repeated attempt.