Monday, February 26, 2024

Resurgence of illegal timber trade in plains of Garo Hills


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From Our Correspondent

Phulbari, Nov 9: While the world talks about environmental conservation, some unscrupulous people from the plain belt have taken it upon themselves to ensure nature does not breathe a sigh of relief. Locals have pointed to the presence of at least 30 such illegally operating units between Hallidayganj and Chibinang with at least 50-60 vehicles carrying illegal timber right in front of the noses of authorities that are meant to stop the illegal menace.
According to sources, illegal saw mills are currently operational in the villages of Lalmati, Belbari, Bhaitbari, Gomaijhora, Rongkhon and Chibinang, among others. While one would expect these illegal operations to be clandestine, local sources said that these criminals have been so emboldened that they carry timber through the day with no one having the guts to enforce the law.
Check gates, both of state forest as well as the GHADC are apparently present in all the routes through which timber can be transported but forest officials, both from the state as well as the Council have either turned a blind eye or take a few rupees to allow these vehicles to go through.
A source pointed out that there were at least 4 illegally operating sawmills in the village of Belbari. However when forest authorities from the GHADC – Phulbari range reached the place to shut it down, the mill owners claimed their mill was in fact in Assam and not Meghalaya.
“When Assam officials come, they claim that the area is in Meghalaya and as such Assam forest does not have jurisdiction. This has been going around in circles and no one has been able to act against these illegal operators. A joint operation is the only solution and we are in touch with Assam forest to try and shut it down,” said a highly placed source from the Phulbari range.
The source added that they have tried on multiple occasions to shut down these units but being locals from the place, they are in constant fear of rebuttals from the illegal operators.
“Everyone is aware of where these mills are operating so shutting them down should not be a problem. The main problem is who will bell the cat. There is also political pressure to think of as these mill owners have deep connections,” he added.
One source from Chibinang stated that timber trucks were moving through the check gate of the GHADC with impunity through the day and the fear of reprisals keeps them silent.
“We will be targeted if we stop these vehicles. We are locals and they know us and the office very well. Will we risk our lives this way when we don’t even have weapons to defend ourselves,” asked the source?
Timber in the plain belt comes mostly from the hills near the plain belt, areas where there is a major tribal population. Sale of timber from the various ‘bagans’ belonging to various Aking lands is the reason why the timber trade has been flourishing. While timber comes from the hills, the mills are all in the plain areas which have a major non tribal population.
“There are many reasons why this trade is flourishing as many plantation owners sell their timber in distress or otherwise. If those from the hills stopped selling timber, the trade would die a natural death. However until that is done, we need to brace ourselves for a major environmental hazard in the coming years. As it is, global warming has already become a reality,” felt local resident SR Sangma of Phulbari.


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