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Lid blown off timber racket

Jalpaiguri, Nov. 4: For Rajen Das, Jiten Burman, Raghu Roy (all names changed) of Gajaldoba, army personnel are not new customers. “They often drop in to buy timber. Yesterday’s incident is nothing new. Only the forest officials got hold of them,” says Rajen.

Twelve army personnel were arrested yesterday on charges of smuggling timber in the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary near Siliguri. The Ninth Engineering Regiment personnel were based at Kanchrapara in Nadia.

The arrested personnel were produced at the court of the chief judicial magistrate here today and remanded in judicial custody for a day. They would be produced in the same court tomorrow.

Baikunthapur divisional forest officer Manindra Nath Biswas said army officials had come from Kanchrapara to inquire into the incident. He clarified that the arrested personnel have not been handed over to the army.

Men like Rajen roam the forests of Baikunthapur felling trees and selling them to “prospective clients” who often drop by to purchase timber. They earn their bread by cutting the trees and selling the wood at low rates. However, they do not undertake transportation.

“As we sell the timber at an abnormally low price, we ask the buyers to arrange for transport. It is their job to take away the wood,” says Raghu.

The armymen have admitted before the forest officials that they had bought 35 teak logs, measuring about 300 cubic feet, for Rs 19,000. The market price of that quantity of wood is around Rs 3 lakh.

While the armymen were on their way to Kanchrapara, forest and police officials, acting on a tip-off, nabbed them. The three trucks being used to smuggle out the timber were seized.

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