Jammu and Kashmir's Sangerwani forest was being robbed of its precious timber for years, and no one cared about it until Pulwama Deputy Commissioner Raghav Langer on Wednesday decided to walk 30 km inside the jungle on foot trek. The DM was shocked to see the damage done by illegal felling of trees and ordered a probe against DFO Shopian, under whose jurisdiction the forest belt falls.

Kashmir Timber Smuggling
Recently, Pulwama DC launched a drive against illegal smuggling using drones to increase the vigil.Twitter/Screengrab

The District Administration has also deployed to conduct an aerial survey using drones to assess the damage to the forest. The drone will be used to keep track on illegal mining and the felling of trees. According to reports, locals also complained that forest officials never bothered to visit the area to check the illegal activities.

The DC reportedly walked around 30 km inside the forest after locals complained about the illegal felling of trees in the area. "The team of District Administration led by DM started the foot trek in the morning from Andarwali. Anderwali to Kandipatheri then crossing over Romushi Nala, Namblam, Gaddar and finally to Inderkhul which is a deep forest Area," The Kashmir Press reported.

Timber loot increased due to lockdown

Jammu and Kashmir is known for its greenery and ice-clad mountains. It is also known for its timber wood, which has long been looted by smugglers of the precious wood. Activists say that the illegal felling of timber trees has been going on for decades but the timber smuggling has increased over the last two-three years and now due to the lockdown. And forest officials are accused of being hand-in-glove with the smugglers.

"In the whole Pir Panzal belt, the timber smuggling has been going on since 90s. It came down around 2005 as a lot of pressure was build on the smugglers. But in the last two-three years and now due to this lockdown and all, the timber smuggling has once again risen in those areas," said RTI activist Muzaffar Bhat, who has been fighting against illegal smuggling for more than a decade.

Bhat says that the forest department and police are to be blamed for this. "It is simply not possible without their support," he said. And it's not just coronavirus lockdown when illegal activities in forest areas rise. Kashmir has long been facing curfews and hartals and while they cause trouble to locals, smugglers see this as an opportunity.

"People are left with no jobs due to these curfews and lockdowns and involve in timber smuggling. In addition to that, top officials in the forest department are not vigilant enough in these areas, which means lower-level employees are in-charge. They are usually the locals who collude with the smugglers," he said.