The forest department seized four trucks of logs worth three lakhs and sealed illegal saw mills at Rohmoria. A team, led by Magistrate, Bipul Das, and Ranger of Dibrugarh forest Division Kushal Deka, made raids at Bogoritolia under Rohmoria Police Station yesterday. It is to be noted that trees felled illegally at Dibru - Saikhowa are transported to Rohmoria where these saw mills run. The conscious citizens have welcomed the forest department's move.

At a time when illegal felling of trees by timber traders with alleged help from forest officials in the forests of Asom have become the order of the day, a team of All Assam Students' Union (AASU) members and journalists of Sonari town in Sivasagar district visited the Abhaypur Reserve Forest in the district and was able to unearth a shocking picture of the destruction of forests going on inside the reserve. The visit of the AASU members and local journalists to the reserve forest yesterday was undertaken following a citizens' meet on killing of rhinos and destruction of forest land in the State, which was held at Kaziranga recently under the aegis of AASU and Asom Unnati Sabha (AUS). The team witnessed mass felling of valuable trees after they crossed the Nailong River, situated just 2 km from the Namtola Beat of the Reserve. Vast tracts of forest land at sector numbers 26, 27, 28 and 29 of Abhaypur Reserve Forest have become plain fields. The team also witnessed wheel marks of trucks at the area, used for transportation of the logs. Interestingly, the delegation also heard a few rounds of bullet fire inside the forests. According to theories, the bullets are fired to alert the timber traders and their accomplices

Nagaon district tops the list among all districts of Asom in having the highest number of illegal saw mills operating in different prohibited forest reserves. An unofficial source also alleged that the district at present has more than a hundred illegal saw mills which are functioning under the very nose of the forest and police officials. The different prohibited forest areas include Dabaka, Lumding, Kaki, Salana, Chapanalla, Anjukpani, Lawkhowa, Garajan, Ambagan, Borghuli, Amchai, Madartoli and other forest reserves. All of these reserves have now been converted into a haven of illegal timber smugglers, many of whom are being given protection and shelter by a section of powerful political leaders of the ruling party, sources added. In the meantime, the DFO Nagaon has launched several drives against the timber smugglers and illegal saw mills, and have even managed to detect and lay seize to several such mills, notably from Panikhati, Arjuntol, Jagari, Hatichung, Kawaimari, Jakhalabandha, Chapanala, Silghat, Mairabari and Dhing areas. But such operations have proved to be ineffective in curtailing the spread of the net of timber smuggling which is assuming alarmingly proportions in all the forest areas. It has been found that even after the seizure of mills, the proprietors easily manage to free them from the court, due to their nexus with higher officials of the forest and police departments. Recently, owing to the initiative of the forest officials of Salana Range several such illegal saw mills were seized by the district forest officer from different places of Kaliabor area, but no follow-up action has been taken by the forest department against the timber smugglers and saw mills till date. Most of the mills are freely operating is different places of the Samaguri LAC. More than 37 such illegal mills were functioning under the shelter of a section of political leaders of the ruling party of the LAC, it is alleged. It is also alleged by the conscious people of the areas that in the Samaguri LAC itself there are many such mills illegally functioning at Lawkhowa, Ambagaon, and Borghuli. The people of the Kaliabor and Samaguri LAC have requested the Forest Minister of the State, an elected MLA of the Samaguri LAC to give his personal attention to the matter, and to also visit the forest areas to take stock of the situation. It may be mentioned that, Nagaon district alone is endowed with 9 forest reserves, but except a couple of them the others have all turned into barren land due to indiscriminate felling of trees resulting in slow disappearance of the flora and fauna. According to an unofficial source, more than 200 big saw mills are functioning in the district with timbers brought from different forest reserves, in open disregard of the prohibition order of the Supreme court in this direction. If the civil, police and forest department continues to be so indifferent it is not long when forests would altogether disappear from the area. It is worth mentioning that in the last couple of years, encroachment in Lawkhowa wild life sanctuary and other reserve forest is rampant with thousands of encroachers (suspected illegal immigrant Bangladeshis) having entered the forest and feeding off the valuable timber wealth and also eliminating the wild life in the forests. Wild animals have been found to be moving into the neighbouring villages, causing great concern among the department officials and naturalists. The Lowkhowa forest reserve is perceived to be the home of more than 200 varieties of migratory and local birds. However, in view of the depletion of the forest reserves, a conscious section of people appealed to the Forest Minister of Asom who hails from Nagoan to take appropriate measures to save the forest resources and also to take stern measures to punish the guilty, sources added.

At a time when the State Government is blowing its own trumpet saying that it is serious about preserving the forest resources of the State and has implemented schemes like the Seuj Prakalpa, massive denudation of forest cover in the reserve forest in Dhubri district has made the State Government's so-called "intention' a mockery of sorts. According to sources, Dhubri district has become a safe haven for timber smugglers which has threatened the very existence of the forest resources in the district. Unabated felling of trees in the reserve forests and roadside areas is going on in spite a ban being imposed by the Supreme Court. Due to the rapid deforestation in the district, reserve forests like the Pabatjhara, Rupsi, Guma, Mahamaya are on the verge of being names only. Smugglers are illegally trading the timber varieties like gomari, newly-grown sal, segun, titasap, that too in broad daylight, in these reserve forests under Parbatjhora and Dhubri Forest divisions. Valuable small and medium-sized logs are being carried on thelas and bicycles to Tamarhat Guma Ferry Ghat and supplied to Bengal on horse carts, through Boxirhat and Chhotaguma areas crossing the Gangadhar (Sonkosh) river on boats. A huge quantity of logs are daily being ferried along the banks of the Gangadhar at Guma Ferry Ghat. It is worth mentioning here that valuable timber are also sold in the weekly markets of Tamarhat and Paglahat. People here blame the forest department officials and guards for an unprecedented increase in smuggling incidents in the area. They have alleged that it is due to an unholy nexus of the forest department officials and guards with the smugglers that these illegal acts are being carried out. The local people have alleged that these smugglers have been paying huge amounts of money to the forest officials on a monthly basis. Reacting sharply over the Forest Department's inaction to protect the forest cover from getting depleted, the people here have said that if the Government does not takes any step to stop this illegal practice with an iron hand, the whole forest cover in the district would soon vanish and hence, would also affect the ecological balance.

The Forest officials of Nagaon have been conducting surprised raids in illegal saw mills in Nagaon and has intensified its drive against timber smugglers.

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