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Lockdown, toothless laws: Forest smugglers exploit situation to loot green gold in Kashmir

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Srinagar: Covid-19 lockdown and new forest law with ‘bailable’ provisions has emboldened the forest smugglers to loot green gold in Kashmir.

For the last two months, there has been a rampant felling of pine trees in different forests ranges particularly south Kashmir. Latest being Sangerwani forests of Pulwama district where scores of the pine trees have been felled by the timber smugglers.  Such is the plunder that authorities had to use drones to assess the damage.

Officials said smugglers are taking advantage of lockdown and transporting the timber without getting caught. Similar reports are pouring in from Anantnag, Kulgam, and Bandipora districts where timber smuggling has reached an alarming proportion.

Last month, a huge quantity of illicit timber was also recovered from Tangmarg and Baramulla forests.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) said hundreds of pine trees have been felled by the timber smugglers with impunity.

Environment lawyer and executive director Wildlife Conversation Fund Nadeem Qadri said Indian Forest Act 1927 implemented under Reorganization Act do not have adequate provisions to control timber smuggling.

“We had 15 legislations under J&K Forest Conservation Act 1987 to deal with the timber smugglers.  Public Safety Act (PSA) was carved out to book smugglers. Now, under the newly implemented Indian Forest Act, an offender would be dealt with under section 607. Timber smuggling is no more a non-bailable offence,” he said.

Chief Conservator of Forests, Kashmir, Syed Farooq Geelani said the damage to forests was not rampant. “It was reported from one place and it has been looked into,” he said.

Conservator of Forests, South Circle, Tawheed Ahmad Deva said some incidents of felling of trees have occurred in vulnerable areas. “A team has been formed to look into the issue.  During the lockdown, the movement of people wasn’t allowed.  The timber smugglers felled some trees in vulnerable areas,” he said.

Deva said the forest became the soft target because of the lockdown. “People residing near the forests couldn’t earn due to the lockdown and they seem to have plundered forests,” he said.