| The seized logs and (inset) the smashed windscreen of the deputy field director’s car. Pictures by Anirban Choudhury
Nimtijhora Tea Estate (Alipurduar), Aug. 24: A group of around 30 smugglers shoved a top official of Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) and a range officer into the Kaljani river during a routine raid here this morning before slipping away with a large consignment of illegal timber.
Neither the deputy Field Director of BTR (West), A.P. Singh, nor the East Damanpur range officer, Amar Dey, was seriously injured. However, the smugglers beat up Singh’s driver, Dipankar Sarkar, and smashed the windscreen of his car.
Singh’s personal security guard, Binoy Sarkar, fired four rounds in the air but did not shoot at any of the gang-members.
“I never thought such an incident could take place during the day,” a shaken Singh said later. The post of the deputy field director is second from top in the tiger reserve.
The incident took place around 11 this morning, after Singh and Dey, travelling in two hired vehicles, arrived at the riverbank in Bharat Chowpathi of Nimtijhora Tea Estate, 29km from Alipurduar town. The raid followed another one yesterday when forest guards had seized five bicycles loaded with sawn timber from the same spot.
“I was getting information about timber smugglers using the area and even thought of posting a camp there,” said Singh.
When the forest team reached the spot today, they saw around 30 timber smugglers with bicycles loaded with logs. Most of them were halfway across the Kaljani river, the water level being no more than 2ft in most places.
The forest officers told them to stop but the order was ignored. So Singh, Dey and Binoy stepped into the river in pursuit of the smugglers.
Binoy was the first to reach the other side. He fired four shots in the air but was quickly surrounded by around 20 smugglers.
When Dey and Singh clambered up after him, they were pushed around and shoved back into the river.
While the scuffle was taking place on the far side, the rest of the gang attacked the drivers and the vehicles. Dipankar was caught and hit on his back with a piece of wood. The windscreen of the Toyota Qualis hired by Singh was smashed. The driver of the other vehicle, a jeep, managed to flee.
Afterwards, all the smugglers disappeared from the spot with most of the timber. A team of forest personnel, which arrived half-an-hour later after being alerted by Singh from his mobile, could find only a few of the logs.
The additional superintendent of the police of Alipurduar, K.B. Dorjee, visited the spot with a large police force around 12 noon.
Singh said the smugglers had made away with timber worth no less than Rs 1 lakh. “We have lodged an FIR with Kalchini police. We will conduct raids of our own to catch the culprits,” he said.