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Ladies’ vigil in Jaldapara

- Women armed with sticks patrol forest to check timber smuggling

Alipurduar, Jan. 28: Five women who live in villages near the Jaldapara forest have volunteered to patrol in a part of the forest to check timber smuggling.

The women started patrolling in the Holong beat that is in the Jaldapara west range on January 25 and caught eight women trying to enter the forest on the pretext of collecting firewood the next day. The patrol group said since then, no woman had been seen entering the forest.

Villagers need permission from the forest beat office to collect firewood. But foresters have often found women from surrounding villages cutting down young trees on the pretext of collecting firewood. If the women tried to escape on being confronted, it became difficult for the male guards to chase them or block their escape.

The need for women forest vigilantes arose because of this, forest department sources said. The five women nowadays patrol with sticks and two male forest guards guide them. They patrol the forest for two-three hours every morning.

On December 21 last year, the women members of the Holong Eco-Development Committee (EDC), a body set up by the forest department for the protection of forests, expressed their desire to patrol the Holong beat, around 45km from here. The all-lady patrol is now on a trial basis. A small honourarium would be given to the ladies from the Eco-Development Committee funds later.

Gouri Das, one of the five members of the forest patrol team, said: “Earlier, we used to go to the forest to collect firewood but stopped doing so after we became members of a local EDC. For a long time, a lot of timber smugglers, including women, have been entering the forests. Nowadays, the forest has become barren as most of the trees have been cut. I asked the forest officials to allow us to patrol so we could stop women from cutting trees. We caught eight women on January 26 and no other woman has entered the forest after that.”

Das said: “The problem we are facing is that the people who used to enter the forest are now threatening us. We have to save the forest for the betterment of our future generation.”

Rajendra Jakhar, the divisional forest officer, Jaldapara wildlife, said: “Last year, a woman died after she was trampled upon by wild elephants inside the forest. Recently, women woodcutters started entering the forests but we do not have enough female staff to prevent them. When the ladies showed interest, we allowed them to patrol the forest for a month. If the initiative is successful, we will follow the same system in other ranges.”