Sunday, July 3, 2022

Bhutan is losing its ancient forests: Blame it on Assam’s timber mafia

The ancient forests in Bhutan are disappearing fast, with the timber mafia in cahoots with corrupt foresters cutting down innumerable trees.

The phenomenon of rampant felling of trees was active over the decades but has become more active in the past few years.

The forest, which had rich vegetation a few years ago, now become a happy hunting ground for unscrupulous timber smugglers.

According to sources, the timber smugglers enter the forest in broad daylight.

A joint team of SSB, forest department and a local NGO has busted camps run by timber mafia deep inside forest bordering Bhutan in Udalguri district of Assam

Assam shares a border of 265 kilometers with Bhutan, along which an Indian paramilitary force, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), is deployed, but there are wide gaps that facilitate the illegal timber trade. Nor does Bhutan have adequate infrastructure for the effective patrolling of the border zones to prevent smugglers from sneaking into the country.

Lately, timber smugglers have been most lively in Assam’s border district of Udalguri, also a hotbed of insurgency. Based on native sources, the stretch round Rajagarh is often made use of for transporting felled bushes from Bhutan.

A senior Bhutanese authority official was quoted by the media as saying that the Kherkheri space, positioned above the Corramore Tea Property, has been a hotbed of smugglers. He warned that the area might lose its complete inexperienced cowl if Indian authorities didn’t swing into motion.

Admitting to the felling of trees and deforestation taking place, It has been also seen that Central Government has issued instructions to Assam to take necessary action against the timber smugglers

Udalguri district administration has ordered the forest, police, and SSB to firm up a plan to prevent smugglers from entering the Bhutan forests.

Jayanta Das, the wildlife warden in Udalguri mentioned that he had also made a complaint about the illegal trade and said at least half-a-dozen sawmills near the border had been shut down and the equipment confiscated after Bhutan lodged a complaint.

“But there are more sawmills in the region that are still functioning. The activities of the timber smugglers have somewhat reduced since the last month,” he said.

Such sawmills can be seen in almost all the districts of Assam that align with Bhutan and these sawmills were established with equipment worth only Rs 30,000-40,000. 

Even locally, Assam’s Sonitpur district has experienced outbreaks of malaria that have been associated with deforestation. Despite the 24-year-old government ban and last year’s NGT order, logging persists.

Not only Bhutan but timber is also illegally imported from Myanmar’s Chin State through multiple routes into the region. Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya have also been heavily impacted by illegal logging, which thrives allegedly with a section of local government officials and politicians have turned blind to it.

The large-scale loss of their forests stands to threaten the survival of wildlife populations as well as intensify climate change. Rainfall patterns have turned erratic, resulting in the reduction of the agricultural output. Growing instances of man-elephant conflict are another outcome of the phenomenon, with Udalguri being among the worst affected districts in the region.


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