NATURAL RESOURCES: Timber loss blamed on ‘ban’ – denudation of forests not a concern, re-plantation activities nil ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 27: Ban on felling of trees and halt in auction because of frequent agitation in the hills by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have led to an annual shortage of timber worth Rs 40 crore in the past couple of years, the Timber Merchants’ Association of Siliguri today said.
“We used to buy timber through auctions conducted in Kurseong and Kalimpong divisions of the state forest department. However, over the past two-three years, because of political agitation that halted auction and the ‘ban’ on felling of trees, we could no longer buy timber from the hills and had to depend on the ones sold from the depots in the plains,” said Onkarnath Banerjee, the association general secretary. “We cannot say how much loss the forest department has been incurring for this but we have suffered a heavy loss as we used to buy timber worth Rs 40 crore or so every year from the hills. Discontinuation of the auction has led to shortage of timber in the market and has scaled down our business.”
The traders said the absence of timber of certain species, which grow in higher altitudes, was also affecting business. “Certain species of timber like pine, dhupi, which grow only in high altitudes and are used for designing furniture, is no longer available. A section of buyers are eager to purchase this type of timber but we cannot supply it,” said Sanjib Sinha, a timber merchant from the Dooars. “This shortage has also affected around 500 people directly involved with the trade.”
Citing an example, the timber merchants said they had suffered a loss of about Rs 10 lakh as they could not collect a consignment after participating in an auction held by the forest department in the hills because of the Morcha’s movement. “The total quantity of timber sold in that auction cost around Rs 40 lakh and we had paid 25 per cent of it, which was around Rs 10 lakh, according to rules,” an association member said. “However, till date, we could not collect the timber.”
Sources in the state forest department said there are 34 government timber depots in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.
The last auction was held in December 2008 in Odlabari. Although the forest officials may not have to face opposition if they conduct the auction in its depots located in the foothills, but the shortage of timber has stopped the process, a trader said.
Officials of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation also expressed their helplessness. “Several cubic metres of timber are lying at the divisions now and we have no idea when these will be finally auctioned,” a senior official said.
The Morcha is nonchalant. “We feel the timber in the hills is the property of the hill people and the government had minted money by exploiting the forest resources,” said Roshan Giri, the general secretary.