500 mesquite trees felled in Aravallis adjoining Kot, Bandhwari villages, say locals
At least 500 mesquite trees (locally known as ‘vilayati kikkar’) were felled in the Aravalli forests adjoining Kot and Bandhwari villages over the past week, according to locals. Complaints in the matter were lodged with the district forest departments of Gurugram and Faridabad on Friday, as the areas are notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, which prohibits any non-forestry activity (including tree cutting).
Sunil Harsana, a conservationist from nearby Mangar village in Faridabad, said he counted at least 500 tree stumps while on a routine walk through the woods on Friday. “Just a few days ago, the area was densely wooded. Whole clusters of trees have been chopped, making patchy clearings in the area,” Harsana said.
This is the largest tree felling to be reported in the region since June 9 last year, when at least 400 trees were felled in Mangar.
Harsana alleged the involvement of the timber mafia, who, according to him, operate more frequently in summer. “There is a big demand for charcoal, which comes from mesquite trees. The wood is extremely dense, burns slowly and is cheaper than coal. In my knowledge, the timber mafia begins to stock up during summer in preparation for increased demand in October, as the winter settles in,” he said.
Activists and environmentalists allege that the frequency of such incidents has increased since June 2017, when the forest department went through an administrative reshuffle.
Vaishali Rana Chandra, a local activist, criticised the forest department for failing to maintain its Aravalli Task Force, which was first proposed in September 2016 and involved setting up of over 50 security outposts in eight districts of South Haryana, where the Aravallis are located. This includes 11 outposts in Gurugram and eight in Faridabad. At the moment, however, there are only six sanctioned outposts in these districts, with one guard each.
“From this situation, it seems like the state government is not intent on protecting the Aravallis,” Chandra said.
As per the forest department’s 2016 proposal, “These areas are the last vestiges of natural biodiversity extant in the region and a valuable gene-pool resource for the future that needs to be protected at all costs.”
The proposal also takes into account the presence of wildlife, particularly leopards and hyenas, in these districts, and recommended that an “Aravalli protection force” be formed for their protection. It recommended that a typical naka should have at least four persons assigned to it for round-the-clock vigilance.
“At least seven check posts that were active in Mangar, Bandhwari, Damdama and surrounding areas, till June 2017, were suddenly shut after an administrative reshuffle and we immediately saw an increase in the cases of tree cutting as a result,” Harsana said. He added that the revival of these checkposts, as part of a dedicated Aravalli protection task force, is imperative to ensuring the safety of these forests.
An official of the Gurugram forest department, requesting anonymity, said, “We have received the complaint and have discussed the same with our Faridabad counterparts. We will inspect the site physically first, and an investigation will be carried out if the case warrants it.”
The official declined to comment on the scaling down of security measures in Aravalli areas.