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Hiten targets forest mafia

Jalpaiguri, June 10: Forest minister Hiten Barman today vowed to crack down on the timber mafia and punish those foresters who had been responsible for the erosion of the green cover in north Bengal in the past 34 years.

“In the past 34 years, the forest cover in north Bengal has halved from the 33 per cent. I am going to find out who are responsible for not protecting our forests. We are going to have a transparent governance and we will not tolerate our staff doing illegal things. I have seen that there are many officers who have been posted in one place for more than five years and even 10 years. They all are going to be transferred,” the minister told journalists after a meeting with senior forest officers at Aranya Bhavan here today.

Barman said several organisations, including the West Bengal Forest Service Employees’ Federation, had given him the names of officers and guards who were in cahoots with timber smugglers.

He alleged that the Left Front government had been using local people and forest staff to loot forest produce and funds in many places.

“We are in the process of gathering proof against them and action will be definitely taken,” said the minister.

Barman said he had also decided to stop politicians from inaugurating forest department functions. “It is usually the sabhadhipati of a zilla parishad who inaugurates, say, Forest Week. These are unnecessary expenses. From now, the district magistrates will preside over such functions.”

He said the CPM had been running the forest protection committees keeping in mind their political interests.

“They have destroyed the forest in the name of protection. We are going to dissolve the existing committees and will form advisory bodies for the new panels. Environment and forestry experts, along with our officers, will be members of the advisory bodies. I have already sent the suggestion to the chief minister who will finalise the names of those who will be in the advisory body,” said Barman.

The Aranya Bhavan, the north Bengal zonal office of the forest department, was constructed six years ago.

Sources said although former forest minister Jogesh Barman, had sat in his chamber in Aranya Bhavan once, his successor Ananta Roy had never visited the office during his tenure. Barman said he would visit Aranya Bhavan at least once a month.

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