Sedaw (Shopian) Dec 9: Though government had established a check post here to check timber smuggling, it has made little difference as the scared officials say they're helpless before the powerful smugglers, many of whom have managed to get propriety rights over forest land in connivance with Revenue officials.
In a single-storey check post, the officials usually remain inside with doors bolted. Whenever somebody enters its premises, the officials peep through a window and then open the door.
"We've been witness to extensive felling of trees here. Enough is enough. We won't sit silent now. Cruel villagers have vandalized the forests here. Felling of trees takes place round the clock here. We have been apprising the higher authorities about the matter, but there is no response," the officials told Greater Kashmir.
Wishing not to be named, they said that to stop the illicit trade they had even filed cases against some smugglers.
"We, however, had to bear the brunt. The smugglers threatened to kill us if we hindered their job. Our life is at stake but who cares. We are scared and the smugglers can kill us anytime," an official said.
Pointing towards a trunk with burnt files and papers, he said that during Ramadan this year, the smugglers laced with axes barged into the check post and ransacked everything. "They set ablaze our bedding, clothes, and official record. Fortunately, we had gone to offer prayers, otherwise they would have killed us. We registered an FIR but the culprits are still roaming free," he said.
Over 50,000 trees, according to the officials, have been felled in Sedaw block only during past 17 years. "Forests have been completely devastated here. We are helplessly watching vandalization of our forests. But what can we do? We don't have police protection or enough manpower to stop the felling of trees. As a result, the smugglers work according to their will and whim. There is no rule of law here. Smugglers rule the roost," they said.
Accusing some officials of the Revenue Department of being hand-in-glove with the smugglers, they said a large chunk of forestland has been transferred to them. "Over five thousand kanals of forest land including compartment 2C and V2C has been encroached by the smugglers. Property of the nation has been encroached. Some smugglers have managed transfer of land in their name in connivance with Revenue officials. They have felled the trees and undertake agricultural activities on the land," a forest guard said.
Samiullah Naikoo of Memandar, Shopian said a large quantity of illicit timber from Sedaw is openly ferried to other districts of the Valley for sale. "Ironically there is nobody to check it, as a result our forests are being exploited. Courts should take suo-moto cognizance of vandalization of forests and direct authorities to depute armed guards to discourage smuggling and bring strict legislations to punish the smugglers," Naikoo said. With Malik Salam