Railroad Blues

it is business as usual for timber traders of the Northeast despite the Supreme Court's ( sc 's) interim ban dated December 17, 1996, on felling and movement of timber. Their business flourishes under the guise of developmental work by the government, which is exempted from the ban. A prime example of this is the railway extension project from Diphu in Assam, to Karong in Manipur, through the Dhansiri reserve forest.

A case of over-felling of teak trees on the Lumding-Diphu track has already been unearthed, points out Jayant Rongpi, a Member of Parliament ( mp ) from Manipur. "In lieu of 100 trees, the timber lobby was successful in felling as many as 25,000 trees,' he says. Similarly, line conversion at Lumding-Sichar rail route has provided the timber lobby ample scope to continue with their loot.

The Dhipu-Karong project was supposed to be inaugurated on August 5, 1997. But the Autonomous State Demand Council (a coalition partner of the Asom Gana Parishad government in Assam that has a lot of influence in Dhipu) protested against the project, citing the environmental loss. Ram Vilas Paswan, the Union minister for railways, met Rongpi in the last week of August. But an unrelenting Rongpi forced the minister to suspend the project.

The report of the sc -appointed T V Rajeswar committee to assess forest degradation in the Northeast also said that timber logging was rampant under different garbs.