Timber smuggling threatens Chakrasila existence

Massive deforestation inside the Chakrasila wildlife sanctuary, especially in the Nayekgaon forest range under Haltugaon forest range in Kokrajhar, is threatening the existence of the endangered golden langur ( Trachypithecus geei). Sources said valuable sal trees are being felled every day and ferried in tractors and bullock carts under the very nose of the forest department, a few metres from the Nayekgaon forest range office. "Over 1,000 sal trees were felled in the last couple of months," a local resident said.

Forest department officials expressed helplessness in protecting the forest wealth. "We are helpless as we don't have required staff or equipment to tackle the smugglers. They are many of them, some with arms," said Fakiruddin Ahmed, the forest range officer, adding, "Our staff are threatened. We need sophisticated arms to deal with the smugglers. I will be happy if the forest minister takes urgent steps to modernise the forest department." He said the department officials cannot do anything unless enough manpower and sophisticated arms are given to them.

The Nayekgaon forest range, which is on the northern side of the Chakrasila wildlife sanctuary, is home to hundreds of golden langur, a Schedule I animal under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, that is found only in this part of the region. Environmentalists have urged the BTC and the Assam government to make necessary arrangements to check the unabated felling of trees inside the sanctuary. "It is the only sanctuary which is home to the endangered golden langur and it needs immediate protection. The area is bestowed with rich bio-diversity and we need to conserve it," an environmentalist said.

An inquiry committee of the Bodoland Territorial Council Legislative Assembly in 2012 had recommended immediate action to protect the forests in the BTC area, particularly in the Nayekgaon forest range. The committee observed that the forests were being destroyed so rapidly that the BTC's economy would be jeopardised. "If such activities are allowed to continue, the BTC administration will be answerable to the country and the Supreme Court for not taking action. The responsibility lies with the BTC to initiate timely action," the report had said. The committee had observed that the forests under Nayekgaon forest range played a unique role and needed to be protected as did the golden langurs living in the forests.

"These forests form an important link between Nadengiri hill reserve forest in the north and Chakrasila wildlife sanctuary in the south. The island population of golden langurs needs to be connected through corridors by habitat restoration to ensure long term survivability," it said. The report had stated that huge plantations of rubber and tea have come up in the dense forests of Choraikhola, Bedlangmari, Nayekgaon, Bangaldoba and Salakati under Nayekgaon range after felling sal trees. As a remedial measure, it recommended that no person should be allowed to enter the rubber and tea plantations established in the forest areas of Nayekgaon. The local residents have expressed concern and blamed the forest department for "keeping silent", though felling continues in broad daylight. Chakrasila is also home to 34 other species of animals, 272 species of birds, 26 species of reptiles and amphibians, 43 species of butterflies and 32 species of ferns, of which more than 30 per cent have medicinal and commercial value.

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