Border Security Force (BSF) personnel posted in Meghalaya were long suspected to have had a hand in smuggling timber to Bangladesh. Last Sunday, forest officials in this northeastern state caught some of them allegedly taking out freshly-cut Sal trees out of Baghmara Reserve Forest.
Meghalaya forest department officials said a patrolling team caught red-handed a team of BSF men while they were loading Sal (Shorea robusta) timber onto a truck in the 400 hectare reserve forest, part of the sensitive Balpakram-Baghmara Landscape. The reserve forest is in South Garo Hills district adjoining Bangladesh.
Our team found a truck (AS01-Q0687) belonging to the BSFs 40th battalion loaded with freshly-cut Sal trees and saw BSF cadres involved in felling trees inside the reserve forest, said regional forest officer (territorial) IR Sangma. He added a diesel-and-mud mixture was used to hide the registration number of the vehicle.
Forest officials seized 1.487 cubic metres of Sal timber from the truck besides serving a show-cause notice to constable Dharam Dayal, who they said was leading the team. The same truck was spotted the previous day collecting timber in another part of the forest, Sangma said.
BSF deputy inspector-general GS Chaudhry, however, quoted his company commander as saying the men were in the forest to collect firewood. We have received the complaint, and we will certainly take action if our personnel are found guilty, he told HT.
Wildlife activists in Meghalaya said smuggling of log through rivers flowing down to Bangladesh was rampant despite strong border fencing. This illegal logging and smuggling is repeatedly reported from the vicinity of Balpakram National Park in the eastern part of the Balpakram-Baghmara Landscape.
A further legal proceeding will be pursued in this illegal timber collection and tree felling from reserve forest under Forest Conservation Act 1980, said PR Marak, DFO (territorial), Garo Hills division. There have been many pending complaints against BSF for their alleged involvement with timber collection from reserve forests of Garo Hills, he added.
Baghmara Reserve Forest is a crucial wildlife habitat as revealed by numerous scientific studies and surveys in the landscape. Some of the key species found in the BRF include the Asian elephant, marbled cat, hoolock gibbon, leopard, Malayan giant squirrel and it has been reported to be a hotspot for numerous butterfly and bird species.