Timber smuggling on a massive scale is taking place right under the very nose of minister Th. Shyamkumar. Despite the forest minister putting up a show of stern action against illegal logging, the smugglers seem to enjoy ‘protection’ of powerful interests and were moving with impunity under cover of night.
In the wee hours of Wednesday around 2 am, the 26 Assam Rifles stationed at Thoubal intercepted 16 trucks carrying un-sawn whole timber worth Rs. 34 lakhs at Thoubal bazar area. The trucks were reportedly coming from Moreh.
Forest minister Th. Shyamkumar, was stationed at Moreh when the said consignment of timber was seized by the AR. He was on an inspection tour to check illegal logging of timber.
He left Imphal on January 23 for Henglep where he reportedly seized a timber truck at Tuilienjang and handed over the same to southern forest division. The same day he moved to Moreh and reached the border town around 9pm.
When the AR team seized the timber consignments on January 24 morning, the minister was still stationed at Moreh. It is learnt that the minister team left Moreh for Imphal around 3pm on January 24.
On questioning the truckers, it was found that they had no transit permit for carrying the logs. Each truck was carrying over 500 cubic block of khangra wood.
Imphal Free Press went to the post and inquired with one of the drivers about the consignment. According to the driver, the timber had been sourced from Moreh and they were contracted by some local timber businessmen to transport the same. The drivers said they were given Rs 500 each for meals and Rs 5000 each more as driver charges.
It is learnt the timber belongs to several businessmen hailing from Sugnu, Yairipok and Moreh area and the consignment was headed for a plywood factory located at Dimapur. The driver also hinted that there were some powerful individuals involved in the timber cartel.
It may be noted that the same morning (January 24) a truckload of timber was also reportedly seized by Nagaland police at Dimapur.
The claim of high connection of the businessmen by the driver is plausible as the 16 trucks passed through four forest gates, namely Moreh, Tengnoupal, Pallel and Molnoi unchecked. They also passed two Assam Rifles posts located at Khudengthabi and Tengnoupal, which conduct security checking around the clock. There is also the Moreh police station and Tengnoupal police station, the timber trucks had also crossed Thoubal police station before encountering a an AR patrol party on Republic Day road sanitising march.
The question is how did the trucks carrying huge timber loads managed able to pass the said security posts. IFP contacted the public relations officer of the forest minister, Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh to query further but a reply is still awaited.
Our correspondent from Moreh adds that the concerned forest official of Moreh forest post who was supposed to check the forest goods was unavailable and had gone home to Imphal. It is further learnt that there are only three personnel at the forest office.
The smuggled wood which is estimated to value about Rs 34 lakhs has been handed over to the Thoubal district forest officer today by the Assam Rifles. The forest department will further submit a case to the CJM Thoubal praying for the timber to be impounded.
The smugglers are emboldened to the extent that they carry no transit papers. Official source from forest department informed IFP that the department do not give transit pass for uncut round timber.
Sources point that the timber smugglers are hands in gloves with certain politicians and the route the illegal timber are transported are cleaned of obstacles including check gates. The forest department officials or police generally do not trouble the timber cartel from carrying out their clandestine business.