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Forest haunts fight Sibchu arson taint

Kalimpong, June 16: The eco-tourism centres in Kalimpong forest division that had suffered damages from arson following the Sibchu firing in February have undergone temporary repairs and have hosted hundreds of visitors in the last one month.

The facilities at Lava, Samsing, Rangpo, Lolaygoan, Jaldhaka and Gorubathan were reopened on May 16 and since then the occupancy rate in these places has been over 90 per cent, said S. Gazmer, the divisional manager of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation’s Kalimpong division.

“We managed to carry out temporary restoration work and reopen the eco-tourism sites with the co-operation of the local people who had also prevented the lodges and cottages at these centres from receiving extensive damages (during incidents of arson),” said Gazmer.

Gazmer said the people of the area had approached his office with the request to get the centres up and running at the earliest so that they could host tourists.

“People in these places have become very conscious and have realised the importance of having eco-tourism centres in their villages,” he said.

Officials said the corporation would need more funds to carry out permanent repairs in these facilities and other properties like the offices and staff quarters that were burnt down by a mob after the firing at Sibchu on February 8.

“We have carried out an estimate for the repair of the damaged and destroyed properties and have sent the same to our managing director in Calcutta. More than Rs 10 crore will be required to carry out the work,” said the divisional manager.

Kalimpong division is the largest forest division in north Bengal with a total area of 4,40,449 hectares.

Gazmer also said timber smuggling had increased in the area in the recent times.

He said the corporation was carrying out awareness drives since May 11 to stop the illegal transportation of timber. “So far we have seized timber worth Rs 8 lakh and impounded five vehicles. Five persons have also been arrested for smuggling during this period,” he said.

Gazmer added that the local people often buy illegal timber and the corporation was trying to sensitise them and asking them not to do so. “If people continue to buy illegal timber we will be bound to take action against them,” he said.

According to the divisional manager, the corporation should be allowed to reopen its centres in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, which sold timber, to stop the buying of illegal wood.

“People say they were forced to buy illegal timber as they couldn’t procure woods legally from us,” he said.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had imposed a ban on the movement of timber from the hills as part of its non-cooperation movement.

However, the corporation is hoping that it will be allowed to resume the timber trade soon.

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