The seized truck. Telegraph picture
Kokrajhar, May 30: A truck carrying sal logs worth lakhs of rupees was seized by a joint team of police and forest department personnel at Basangaon near Karigaon in Kokrajhar district along National Highway 31C this morning.
The incident once again exposed the poor state of the forest department in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD), where, according to an official report, around 40,000 hectares of forestland have been encroached. The Haltugaon division of Kokrajhar district has the highest record of encroachment of forestland with 14,538.41 hectares of land being encroached upon.
Police said the truck (bearing registration number AS-18C-4636) with sal timber worth over Rs 5 lakh was on its way towards Goalpara via Bongaigaon from Athiabari in Kokrajhar when it was intercepted by the police on the national highway around 9am. Forest officials later rushed to the spot and seized the truck. The occupants of the truck, including the driver, fled the spot.
The police recovered two mobile phones and documents from inside the truck. According to the police, the truck belongs to Md Abdul Hai of Hedayatpur in Goalpara. "More investigations are on," a policeman said.
Forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma and BTC deputy chief, in-charge of the forest department, Kampa Borgoyary, also visited the spot.
Brahma said stern action would be taken against timber smuggling. She sought a detailed report. She expressed deep concern over massive deforestation.
"I am concerned about deforestation in the state especially in the BTAD. We must save beautiful forests and rare one-horned rhinos at any cost."
The minister said steps would be taken for protection of forests and wildlife.
Brahma added that encroachments in the state's reserve forest areas would be checked and strong measures would be taken to evict the encroachers and provide them alternative arrangement.
"I will coordinate with chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal while taking measures to protect and safeguard natural resources," she said.
Borgoyary also said stern action would be taken against timber smugglers and illegal settlers to safeguard the forest wealth in the BTAD.
Conservationists have expressed deep concern over diminishing of forest wealth and rampant felling of trees in reserve forests and sanctuaries. It is alleged that illegal cutting of trees and encroachments in reserve forest areas continue under the very nose of the forest department. The forest department officials, however, claim that they carry out regular operations against illegal activities, including timber smuggling, in the forests.
Once known for evergreen trees, the forest cover in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri bordering Bhutan, is diminishing owing to rampant felling of trees and encroachment.