Tura, April 18: The Rongrenggre reserve forest in East Garo Hills is facing the twin threats of deforestation and illegal mining after the discovery of coal deposits.
Coal traders in nexus with forest officials are allegedly carrying out mining at the reserve forest. In addition, the forest has lost 60 per cent of its green cover owing to traders and militants felling trees for timber and firewood.
The illegal mining and felling of trees has raised alarm bells in Williamnagar, which is just 4km from the reserve forest.
“Felling of trees has been going on for a decade now. Even after several protests, nothing has been done to protect the green cover. We have been struggling to ensure the protected area is conserved,” said Senseng Marak, president of the Williamnagar unit of the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People.
A survey conducted by different civil societies has revealed that a huge area inside the reserve forest has been cleared for mining.
Chisim Marak, a youth who lives in the vicinity of the forest, said, “Interested parties have literally occupied the whole forest. The discovery of coal deposits has created a dangerous situation. A river runs through the forest and people depend on it. Hence, mining should not be allowed.”
Another activist, Taison D. Shira, blamed the district administration for the problem. “The timber and extracted coal is taken through the highways. The trucks could have been stopped at various checkpoints like Songsak, Tura and Williamnagar but the administration has done nothing.”
The mining at the reserve forest has led another rights group, the Centre for Environmental Protection and Rural Development, to pursue the matter.
An activist of the organisation, Treepon Sangma, said, “It seems very clear there is something wrong. How is it so easy to transport forest products from within the protected area when there are checkpoints everywhere? The movement is happening through highways, so it is impossible not to catch them. Once the transport of these products is stopped, the problem will be solved.”
Officials in the administration and forest department said the matter would be investigated.