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Neora rakes up forest fire

Siliguri, Nov. 24: Villagers in Samsing, 70 km from here, have decided to launch a non-cooperation movement against the forest department for alleged deprivation, ill treatment, physical assault and false police cases.

The eco-development committee (EDC) of the area and Federation of Societies for Environmental Protection, an NGO, have extended support to the agitation.

Residents like Targen Lepcha, Hemanta Giri and Ganesh Man Chettri claimed that they had “gifted” (as stated in the court deed) their land last year for a eco-development project in Neora Valley National Park, on the understanding that they would be made party to the project.

Giri had donated 1.3 acres for the construction of a forest guesthouse while Lepcha and Chettri had donated their land for road construction. In the past 14 months, the entire landscape of the Neora Valley changed. The 88-sq km forest has now a half-constructed wood building and newly constructed roads adjacent to it.

But when the villagers started demanding payment for their work, the forest department stopped the project citing involvement of vested interests.

“Range officer Pravin Katwal had asked us to involve labourers and start constructing roads, assuring that payments would be made every fortnight. Accordingly, we started work in March, and completed 650 metres of the 2-km stretch. We got only two payments and Rs 60,000 is still pending,” said Lepcha.

According to a letter written to divisional forest officer (DFO) Tapas Das by the villagers, Lepcha has received only Rs 90,000 of the Rs 1.5 lakh that he incurred as cost for constructing the stretch of the road. Chettri’s complaint is similar. “I am yet to receive Rs 39,000 from the department,” he said.

“Since we went on demanding our payments, they stopped the project and lodged an FIR against us on August 30,” Chettri said.

Giri alleged that the department had used forest wood to construct the building, which is in violation of forest and wildlife legislation.

Kishore Thapa, a member of the forest protection committee, said for any forest related development work, it is mandatory to take permission from the FPC and the EDC.

“But the authorities never intimated us,” Nim Duri Sherpa, the EDC convener said. “We are thinking of filing a suit in the high court.”

The DFO, however, alleged that the villagers have vested interests and that is why the project was stopped. “The allegation about the bungalow is baseless. We had used seized timber for the purpose.”

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