Timber smuggling on rise in Bhadarwah valley during lockdown

JAMMU, Apr 8 (Agencies): While the ongoing lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus has ground life to a halt for most people across the country, timber smugglers have stepped up their activities in Jammu and Kashmir”s Bhadarwah valley to “inflict maximum damage in minimum time”.
Over a dozen cases of timber smuggling were reported in Bhadarwah Forest Division (BFD) on Tuesday alone even as forest officials have joined hands with police and ramped up operations to arrest the alarming trend, officials said on Wednesday. Located at a height of 6,000 feet, Bhadarwah is a mountainous valley home to thick coniferous forests. However, illegal deforestation by timber mafia is depleting the forest cover rapidly. “We have verified the incidents and found that unscrupulous elements are taking advantage of the lack of movement (of officials) during the lockdown to steal the forest wealth. They use diesel cutters which inflict maximum damage in minimum time,” Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Bhadarwah, Chander Shekhar said.
In the first two weeks of the 21-day lockdown, which began on March 25, 10 cases have been registered against 14 people, he said. Two timber smugglers were arrested on Tuesday and 14 illegally run sawmills were sealed in Neeru range, 1286.9 cubic feet of timber extracted illegally from green cedars and pine trees and nine heavy mechanical diesel cutters were seized from Tanta Panchayat in Chirala range over the past four days, he added. The DFO said the department has requested the police and Forest Protection Force (FPF) to help it fight the forest mafia. “The police and the FPF acted swiftly and a joint operation was launched which is going on at various places in the forest division,” Shekhar said. Night patrolling has also been intensified which led to the arrest of two smugglers — Safdar Hussain of Domail and Sajjad Hussain of Doda — who were stealing timber scants from the divisional office, Bhadarwah on Tuesday, he said.
To tighten the noose around the timber mafia, Shekhar said, “A dossier has also been prepared against habitual offenders who will be soon booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA).” He sought people”s cooperation to help the authorities deal with the menace. “The residents need to come forward and provide information about those indulging in looting the forest,” he said.

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