Tree felling – forest officials deny knowledge

The contractors, however, seep into the tree felling work taking advantage of the ignorance of the poor farmers. t of them are illiterate and poor. Taking advantage of their handicap, these contractors take up the role of middlemen between the department and farmers.

We issue permits directly to the farmers and no contractor is involved,” said the DFO, Pathankot division.

However, what happened yesterday at Pathankot clearly illustrated that contractors ruled the roost as far as the schedule for felling of trees was concerned.

A group of “khair” contractors gathered at the department and took out a procession against The Tribune for exposing a scam in Japan bank-aided project and violation of tree felling rules. They also burnt a few copies of the newspaper in order to pressurise newsmen against exposing the scam.

The contactors clearly had the tacit support of department officials, who allegedly egged them on to create pressure on newsmen exposing the scam.

These contractors were seen visiting the offices of various Forest Department officials before carrying out the protest.

Sources said the contractors were to be issued permits for felling 5,000 trees in the Donera range of the subdivision yesterday. However, after the violation of the felling rules was reported in these columns, the release of permits was delayed.

The DFO, Gurdaspur division, Mr Sahota, had earlier said that senior officials of the department, including he himself, the Deputy DFO and the Conservator of the range, were yet to check the marking of the trees effected by the lower staff.

However yesterday, in his statements reported in a section of the Press, the DFO stated that the below-specification marked tree had actually dried up or were diseased. It was surprising that when the DFO was yet to check the marked trees, how could he label them as dried up or diseased.

The changed statements of the DFO clearly indicated officials’ connivance with the contractors.

When The Tribune team visited the forest areas, many marked trees were found pruned. Sources said the trees were pruned just to show these as dried up or diseased in papers.

Sources said the real earning of the forest contractors was in cutting trees that did not meet the specifications. They tell farmers that they had to grease the palms of the officials to get unspecified trees marked.

The farmers are paid just Rs 200 to Rs 300 for each such tree while real profit goes into pockets of the contractors and officials. Such trees are termed as “mudi” by contractors and farmers in local parlance.

Sources also alleged that if an inquiry was carried out into the assets gained by these forest contractors in the past five years, the fact that who was the real gainer in tree felling programmes of the department would become clear.

While the contractors are getting richer by the each felling season, the farmers, who are said to be the real beneficiaries, are living in abject poverty.

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