stolen firewood

Sushanta Roy is a journalist in the north eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora, and the things that affect them.

Diphu September 21 : A forest department official may be involved in smuggling coal and plundering of social forestry, according to a group of conscious people in Diphu town recently.

Members of an NGO who undertook an investigation based on public allegations, say that on January15, 2014 Forester grade-I, D. Sangma, posted at Northern Range Bakulia seized 300 metric tons of coal inside Disama Reserve Forest.  The forest, around 60 kilometres from Diphu, is a part of Marat Longri Wildlife Sanctuary. Agroup of forest staff engaged in protection duty seized the illegal shipment.

According to the investigation report, the seized coal consignment was listed in the records of Northern Range, Bakulia as illegally mined from inside the sanctuary area.

As alleged, D. Sangma on the instruction of the then Range Forest officer of Bakulia Northern Range, Arovinda Talukdar, placed the safekeeping of the seized coal shipment under the custody (Zima) of one Joyandra, the village headman of Tissom gaon on the grounds that the village is located within close range of the place of seizure.

The matter was not notified to the nearest police for protection of the seized material. “Under normal practice this type of seizure should be brought to the notice of the police station which commands the area, whether custody is given to any village headman or not” a senior Forest officer said, unwilling to disclose his identity.

Allegedly the whole shipment of seized coal was sold to some coal smugglers involved in illegal mining inside Marat Longri Wildlife Sanctuary, under the shield provided by the Range Forest officer of Bakulia Northern Range, Arovinda Talukdar. Coal worth several lakhs of rupees vanished into thin air overnight. When a group of local people from Bakulia reported the matter to a higher authority, the Range Forest Officer, in order to sidetrack the core issue filed an FIR at Manja police station which commands the Tissom gaon village in July 2015.

Since that time until today, neither the Divisional Forest Officer of Karbi Anglong West Division Forest nor the Northern Range Bakulia has provided a satisfactory explanation for the issue.

Arovinda Talukdar, the officer whose activities are under question, is presently posted as Range Officer of the Central Range in Diphu town under Karbi Anglong West Division Forest. Bizarrely enough, he is the forest officer whose primary duty includes protection and propagation of forest and environment. He carried out massive destruction of newly planted forest inside Dhansari Reserve Forest near Chorsory village around 12 kilometres from Diphu with the help of his loyal staff on July 15, 2015 for unknown reasons. The plantation created by the local peoples of nearby Panbari village was organized by Divisional Forest Officer of Karbi Anglong West Division Forest and the previous Range Officer of Central Range Diphu, Mondol Engleng. While devastating the green forest, Arovinda Talukdar also demolished a number of huts used by planters.

burned logs
burned logs

The incident went on inside interior areas and in absence of any conscious people in the affected locality, the incident was not reported to higher Forest officials. Strangely enough nearly 10 to 15 hotels (eating joints) and a bakery located in the heart of Diphu town burn tons of illegally procured firewood every day. Trucks and bicycles deliver loads of firewood to these hotels and bakeries in each day, in broad daylight.

firewood at hotels
Stolen firewood at hotels

“Most of these hotels and bakeries where hundreds of tons of firewood are consumed are located within a 2 kilometre radius of Diphu Central range whose controlling officer is Arovinda Talukdar, but we have never seen him taking any action like seizing of firewood from hotels or trucks. In a few cases, a few three-wheelers were seized just to dupe the main issue. A thorough investigation is needed to probe various past and present allegations pending against this forest officer and till now he should be kept out of active duty. If the situation is allowed to go on we shall be compelled to take legal action against rampaging of green forest by this officer,” an influential political party leader said.

Trees removed
Trees removed
stolen firewood
stolen firewood
charred forest and hacked tree
charred forest and hacked tree