KCC&I urges action against ‘mute’ officials, seeks high level task to end timber smuggling

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Srinagar: The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Saturday urged Lt Governor of J&K G C Murmu to take strict action against concerned officials who have failed to prevent illegal felling of trees across the Kashmir Valley.
A spokesperson of the trader’s body termed as commendable the efforts put in by Dr Raghav Langer, Deputy Commissioner Pulwama, to bring focus on the loot and plunder of forests by the timber smuggling mafia.
“The day long field visit to Sangerwani forests by Dr Raghav and his team which included long treks into deep forests and using modern technology like Drones to inspect the areas deserves appreciation indeed. But the press reports of thousands of trees being cut is shocking. It is so because thousands of deodar, fur or kail trees wouldn’t have vanished in thin air,” it said, adding, “Logistics involved point to a major loot and plunder operation being in place.”
Reports, the spokesman said, emanating from all other districts of Kashmir like Shopian, Kulgam, Bandipora, Baramulla, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Budgam, Kupwara point towards a flourishing timber smuggling operation which cannot exist without institutional patronage. “Reports suggest that hundreds of trees are being chopped off every day and transported in a very organized manner by smugglers often armed using horses and trucks. The plunder is doing irreparable damage to forests and the lucrative profits seem to have drawn unscrupulous elements from all sections. Reports quote mind boggling number of smugglers active in the racket.”
The Forest Department, the traders body said, appears to be miserably failing in posing any sort of challenge to these operations with serious allegations against many of them.
“Neither has the Department been able to put in place effective mechanisms for protection of the forests. The smuggling has also received a shot in the arm because under the Indian Forest Act which has been extended to Jammu and Kashmir it is a bailable offence.”
The Public Safety Act which was originally introduced in the 1980’s to book timber smugglers is no longer applicable to smugglers because of the scrapping of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997 after the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 came into effect in October 2019, the spokesman said.
“Between August and October, 2019 the Forest Department has reportedly filed 59 cases of alleged timber smuggling. But habitual offenders seem to be somehow operating without much bother.”
Besides requesting action against the concerned officials, the trader’s body also urged government to consider the constitution of a high level task force to be headed by a senior functionary. “In order to initiate effective and conclusive action, the KCC&I recommends that the Task Force be headed by a person of impeccable integrity and experienced in investigative police work,” the spokesman said, addin, “The Task Force is needed for creating a sustainable protective cover for our forests against the flourishing timber mafia.”


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