Shimla: The impunity with which precious Himalayan deodar trees have been cut, sized into timber and readied for being domestically used or sold illegally has given cause for concern about the dormant forest mafia resurfacing to make a killing as appetite for quality wood rises.
A joint raiding party consisting of forest officials and vigilance sleuths has been combing the Kalbogh demarcated protected forest in Shimla district for the past week to recover what is being considered as one of the largest catches of timber in recent times.
Having recovered about 2000 logs, Digvijay Singh Negi, additional superintendent police (vigilance) leading the joint team combing the forest area says, â€œSo far we have come across 134 stubs of trees that have been cut down, which can be counted among the best ones that were there in the protected forest.â€ He said that residents of Gwach village and other neighboring villages who were on the periphery of the 3 Sq Km forest area were prime suspects.
Director General Police (DGP) Daljit Manhas said, â€œCollusion of lower forest staff in turning a blind eye and allowing cutting of trees has been found, he said.
As no arrests have been made so far, the DGP said, â€œpeople involved in the illegal activity had been identified but priority was being given to seize the entire wood first.â€ On Saturday itself, about 500 logs were recovered. He put the value of forest wealth plunder at Rs 2 crore.
Forest officer TR Kaushal, who with Negi is carrying out the operation, disclosed that recovery of old logs showed that illegal lumbering had been going on for the past two to three years.
Forest guard Rattan Chand and block forest officer Gateshwar Singh stand suspended from their jobs over negligence of duty, he said.
For Kaushal, who joined as Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) at Theog only 3 months back, this is the third major forest violation that he has booked. The other two incidents related to mining and felling of green trees.
â€œWhat is encouraging, says Kaushal, â€œthat value of protecting forest covers was being felt and information about illegal mining and green felling was forthcoming from among the residents itself.â€
A fortnight ago, another clandestine timber operation in the deeply wooded Shikari Devi forest area of Mandi had came to light, in which two forest guards have been suspended.
The state has had a moratorium on green felling of trees in place since 1983, when a large scale forest scam was detected and had cost then chief minister Ram Lal Thakur his job.