Illegal Raping of Forests in NE India

The North-East Himalayan region presents a diverse system of habitats ranging from tropical rain forests to alpine meadows. These varied eco-systems distributed along different latitudinal as well as altitudinal limits contain endangered fascinating flora and fauna derived from varied biomasses of ‘Earth’.

The forest areas of North-East Indian States like Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and West-Bengal, are some of the most important reserve deep forest and rain-forest areas in this sub-Himalayan territory for developing a comprehensive network of bio-diversity conservation. It includes a number of verified natural habitats and is rich in communities in species, in varieties and in endemics.

An unidentified wood smuggler is chopping of the trees secretly in the forest of Indian State Assam, while Environment & Forest Department, Government of India has revealed in a report that the forest cover Northeast India is shrinking due to human activities.

Ironically, very little has been done to either study or protect these areas in the past. The largest number of bio-diversity hotspots in the Asia, as well as the country is also found here. Also a large number of valuable wildlife resources are yet to be enumerated strictly in accordance with facts and figures.

It is a fact that the North-Eastern States Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and West-Bengal have always been cut-off from the rest of the Indian peninsular region. This has mainly stemmed from the natural geographic conditions of the region. This sad state of neglect pertains not only to ecological conditions, but also to the area’s economic, social and political situation.

Today, when all of humanity is raising a hue and cry for preserving the environment and maintaining ecological balance(which has been lost for so long primarily due to thoughtless activities of men), some foreign and national noxious agencies joined hands to destroy the already half shattered North-East India to make mega bucks.

The news of the recent molestation of the forest wealth of the aforesaid Indian States exposes the ill motives and intentions of wildlife poachers, wood-smugglers, illegal migrants and militant groups, who eke out an existence from this.

The non-stop looping of forests caused extensive damage to the dense rain-forests of North-East India, which resulted in the heavy and unbridled plunder of forest resources.

“It is true that the militants or extremists of North-Eastern States, (especially in Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Mizoram) dominated the illegal felling tree business, earning crores of rupees for their outfit’s coffers or to mobilise the Movement. Though, for the few times it was stopped due to the resistance put by a section of ultras. But, now it is once again in full swing in the aforementioned forests,” claimed the local Non Governmental Organization (NGO) related to environment and wildlife.

In fact, “The militant charges Rs. 25 to Rs. 75 for every cubic feet of wood smuggled from the wood cutters. The smugglers in turn, sell it to the middlemen, mostly immigrant Muslims, who finally sell it to the sawmills in the Indian State, West-Bengal and also to neighboring countries, the then East-Pakistan that is, East-Bengal, presently Bangladesh including the other parts of India, with inflated charges,” emphasized the activists of environmental NGOs, all sections of people and the local plywood factory or saw-mill owners of West Bengal State and others states of India including Bangladesh, where their aforesaid factories are running in full swing.

These aforesaid West Bengal State and the others states of India and the Bangladesh plywood factory or mill owners admitted that their mills and the furniture shops are fed by the ‘Green-Gold’ of Northeast India. Not only that, even in Northeast India, where about 700 to 800 village man, woman, children and youth fetch firewood from the forests, of the above mentioned Northeast Indian States to meet the growing demand of the local and poor tea stalls, hotels, bakeries, and construction, et cetera.

In this context, it is a fact that in the year 2001, the outfit like Bodo (specially, National Democratic Front of Boroland – NDFB and Bodo Liberation Tigers – BLT), United Liberation Front of Asam (ULFA), et cetera had imposed a blanket ban on the illegal felling of trees in the eastern Indian State, Assam and also ordered 144 sections in the forested areas. To stop this illegal nonstop looting and plundering of Green-Gold, an ‘Organization’ of young stars better known as rebels, formed NDFB. The members of these organizations proclaim that heavy punishment will be inflicted upon those who illegally plunder the wealth of the forests. The Government has utterly failed to protect and preserve this wealth of the Bodo Tribe peoples in the proposed Bodoland areas upon which the economic and social prosperity of this peoples depend.

The son of the soil, the Bodos of these organization declared that these unwanted wood-cutters and smugglers will be given death when found committing such offenses or illegal activities. The organization in a circulation clearly warned those illegal wood-cutters and smugglers that they would not tolerate this thing any more, including stealing even small pieces of wood whatsoever from their forest. It is national wealth and they would not let it to be plundered in this way any more. The organization further proclaimed that none would be pardoned if and when found raping their natural wealth.

However, in the year 2005, the NDFB and BLT have joined the All Bodo Students’ Organisation (ABSU) in the same issue and released a statement. “Our organization, NDFB has determined to keep vigil in the forest areas in order to safeguard the shrinking jungles. Not only that we have decided to stop illegal felling, cutting, smuggling of trees and illegal intrusion of forestland. Even, we urge the Forest Department of Bodo Territorial Council And Districts (BTCAD) and the all sections of people to prevent these kinds of unlawful subversive activities, before it’s too late,” warned B. Sudem, and some dedicated top most NDFB leaders.

According to this organization, “It is nothing but a great conspiracy against the peace-loving inhabitants of the forests under proposed Bodoland areas in the state, Assam, which aims to bring their ruin and so they have decided to put an end to this underhand activities. But, this needy people could not keep themselves restraint from doing these activities. They went the forest for cutting and stealing timber, and will have to face consequences such as death. Therefore, if the wood-cutters and the illegal timber smugglers do not hold back from doing such activities, they will have to meet such unkind fate. The extremists want to extricate forest resources by exterminating all illegal activities.”

“The forests of above Eastern Indian States are noted for their endangered species of flora and fauna, evergreen forests and wonderful wild creatures, which have brought a good amount of revenue for the exchequer of the above states as well as being the sources of the daily income of the forest dwellers. But, now these forests have been lost and destroyed due to the Government attitude for issuing permits indiscriminately during the year 1980 to 1994. This is done by some noted members of the political parties in alliance with unscrupulous timber merchants, the leaders of the forest villages and so on,” claimed the nature loving people of Northeast India.

Though, this has now diminished to a degree because of the historic verdict issued by the honorable Supreme Court of India (SCI) on 17th December, 1996, banning all sorts of cutting and destroying or felling of trees and its movement to Eastern Indian States except the West-Bengal State of India. But, this verdict also put a threat to the West Bengal State Forests and wildlife. However, the aforesaid verdict also put a stumbling block on the illegal timber trade and the timber merchants and the smugglers had to wind up their business for the time being of Eastern India as a whole.

Although, handsaws are being used for felling trees with the connivance of forest officials, and mills are being fitted with improvised silencers to operate at night. Smugglers are also setting up bandsaws inside remote forests. They are making good use of the honorable courts permission to sell felled timber, while as per the verdict issued by the SCI, no saw-machines can be set up within the 03-kilometre area of the Reserve Forest.

The most interesting fact is that yet in the Indian State, West-Bengal (specially, North-Bengal sector areas), there are around 20 to 25 saw-machines operating in and around the Buxa Reserve Forest as well as Jaldapara Reserve Forest areas. While according to the Census Report furnished by the Indian Forest Department, 35 to 40 of the sawmills are illegal under the Coochbehar District Forest division of West Bengal State. It is also true that, saw-mills have sprung up in Garmocha, Bhutnirhat, Mechbeel, Madarihat Road, Raichenga, Kharyerkot, Dalimpur, Chuakata, Jateshwar and its adjoining areas under the Coochbehar district of the West-Bengal state, which stands on an Indian interstate boundary between Assam State and the West-Bengal State areas. They are set up here and there in each and every lane and by-lane by degrees at the interval of 3 months. Cottage-industries and various logs of Sal, Segun, Sishu, Titachanpa, Gamari, et cetera are found piled in front of these saw-mills. Apart from this, some of the big saw-mills are often found operating in the Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts (under North-Bengal sector) of West-Bengal State, who have no licenses or permits.

To speak the truth, still, timber smuggling, both West-Bengal State (that is, India) and Bangladesh is an unchecked routine day in and day out business in the Indian Assam-West-Bengal interstate border and West-Bengal and Assam (that is, India) Bangladesh international border districts. Along the aforesaid Indian interstate border (West Bengal State side) a number of saw or veneer or plywood mills are not only to be found (even, after the verdict of the honorable SCI order), but also along the West-Bengal (that is, India)-Bangladesh international border (the Bangladesh side) and it is estimated that there are more than several hundreds of saw or veneer or plywood mills. These businesses are fed by smuggled timber which are sent to the saw mills of Indian West-Bengal State as well as the Bangladesh sides by the wood-smugglers in various ways.

It is mostly the Reserve Forests of Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling districts of West-Bengal State area, Dhubri, Barpeta, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Karimganj, Hailakandi districts of Assam State sector, North Tripura , South Tripura, West Tripura and Dhalai districts of Tripura State zone, the West Garo Hills, South Garo Hills, West Khashi Hills, East Khashi Hills and Jaintia Hills districts of Meghalaya State region and Mizoram State’s Mamit, Lunglei, Lawngtlai districts that are regularly destroyed. “An interesting fact is that all the above districts of the above-mentioned states are touched the international border with Bangladesh and the forests of the above districts almost totally disappeared because of illegal felling or looping of trees by not only smugglers but also chiefly by the illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators,” stated one of the renowned environmental experts of Northeast India, Debajit Sharma.

“There are hundreds of small and big saw-mill, plywood-mill, and veneer-mills in Lalmonirhat, Nilfamari, Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Dianjpur, Jaipurhat, Naogaon, Nawabganj, Rajsahi, Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhenaidah, Jessore, Satkhira (opposite to Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, North-Dinajpur or Uttar Dianjpur [earlier known as – East Dinajpur], South Dinajpur or Dakhhin Dianjpur [earlier known as – West Dinajpur], Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North-24-Parganas or Uttar-24-Parganas and South-24-Parganas or Dakhhin-24-Parganas districts of West Bengal State of India), Kurigram, Sylhet (opposite to Dhubri [and it’s adjacent Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Goalpara districts], Karimganj [and it’s adjoining Hailakandi district] district of Assam State of India), Sherpur, Maymanshing, Netrokona, Sunamganj (opposite to West Garo Hills, South Garo Hills, West Khashi Hills, East Khashi Hills and Jaintia Hills districts of Meghalaya State of India), Rangamati (opposite to Mamit, Lunglei, Lawngtlai districts of Mizoram State of India), Khagrachar, Chittagong, Feni, Comilla, Brahmanbaria and Habiganj (opposite to South Tripura, West Tripura, Dhalai and North Tripura districts of Tripura State of India) districts of Bangladesh that thrive on smuggled timber from the Indian States like – West-Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and also Mizoram,” confirmed the intelligence source of Border Security Force of India (BSFI) and the Indian Forest Departments, including the Indian State Police Departments of this particular Northeast Indian region.

“To carry out the aforesaid illegal ‘business’ (that is, the timber from the woodlands, that is, jungles of Northeast India), the smugglers use all sorts of transportation like bullock-carts, horse-carts, buffalo-carts and pull-carts, (locally called Thela), bicycles, tricycles (called rickshaws) and even, during the rainy seasons or monsoon period, different types of boats through the water routes (specially, when the small rivers and tributaries of world’s one of the longest river, Brahmaputra, are in spate) and uses some porous India Bangladesh international border, where International Barbed Wire Border Fence (IBWBF) has not been erected, yet or incomplete. Sometimes, in hilly areas, the numerous rivulets dotting the hills also serve as potential smuggling routes.

Apart from this, trucks, railway-wagons and coaches are also used off and on, whenever the timber is to be such to some distant part of the ‘State’ or ‘Country’. It is not true that Indian forest officials are not aware of these of affairs. But, some unwritten understanding seems to be there between the dishonest forest officials, smugglers and also the BSFI personnel. This often becomes more true when a ‘battalion’ remains for a long time at the same post. As a result, timber smuggling remains not only unchecked but also unchallenged at so many interstate and international check-posts on the route,” informed the local observers and the nature lover activists of Northeast India.

The reckless ravage of the reserve and non-reserve forest of the Northeast India by a class of timber smugglers with the aid of some senseless forest officials, frightened the forest dwellers who later got together to preserve their natural wealth.

In Northeast India, the officials of the Indian Union Minister for Environment and Forest, expressing concern over the depleting forest cover in entire Northeast Indian States Assam, who had only 25% (percent) to 30% (percent) of its area under forest cover. However, this is only what’s on pen and paper; in reality the forest cover is much less. The officials also disclosed, “In the last 10 to 15 years, the forests of Northeast India have not only been plundered by extremists, poachers and illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, but also by a section of politicians, businessmen and corrupt officials of the Indian Security Forces, who have strong illegal nexus with the smugglers, the anti-social elements as well as the militant groups.” Though, in the earlier India Central Government decided to set up a Forest Strike Force (FSF) to protect wild flora and fauna that is, the ‘green Gold’ of Northeast India, which will be great help in future, but in vain.

The environmentalists and the conscious peoples of this region say that these forests having boundless natural wealth which will shortly turn into a ‘desert,’ if such wanton destruction continues unchecked.