GUWAHATI, Aug 31 - Large-scale deforestation triggered by illegal logging and timber smuggling has pushed the Rani forest landscape on the city outskirts along the Assam-Meghalaya border to the brink.
The reserve forests of Rani, Jorasal and Kawashing under Kamrup East Forest Division are spread over an area of 45,981 hectares, where sal and teak were once predominant. Apparently, due the absence of official protection by the forest department, the local range office in particular, timber smugglers are having a field day in the forest.
Massive destruction inside the reserve forests along the Assam-Meghalaya border has also triggered exodus of wild elephants into the nearby fringe villages in search of food even during the monsoon season.
Local people attribute this worsening man-elephant conflict to human-induced depredations in the forests. Crop damage by marauding herds has already forced many farmers of villages such as Nalapara, Belgurietcto, etc., to give up farming. A number of human fatalities have also been recorded in the recent years.
Sources alleged that the illegally-felled trees are initially logged and stocked inside the reserve forest for a few days before those are transported to Palashbari, where the smuggled logs are usually sawn. Some smuggled logs are supplied to Meghalaya also for sawing. Finally, the sawn timber finds its way to different parts of the State. Sources added that the smuggled timber-laden vehicles move to Palashbari via Loharghat and Borihat between 12 midnight and 3 am as there are several exit routes from Rani to reach NH-37 via Mirza-Chandubi road.
When contacted, State Forest Minister Atuwa Munda, while acknowledging the problem, said that the incidence of tree felling in Rani area had come down in recent times due to enhanced vigilance by the department.
�The fact that the forest belt is contiguous with Meghalaya also poses some problem for us, as timber merchants come with challans procured in Meghalaya and it is possible that sometimes our timber gets mixed with theirs. Anyway, we are taking the matter seriously and will further increase our vigilance in the area,� he said.
Sources said that the rampant timber smuggling can be checked if the Forest authorities introduce round-the-clock patrolling, particularly during the night hours. Unfortunately, the authorities continue to be in a state of stupor despite the disappearance of precious patches of forests under their very eyes. Local sources also alleged that there could be an unholy nexus between a section of forest officials and the timber mafia.