Forest employees, locals air fears of smuggling increase as govt hikes timber rates

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Rehan Showkat

Srinagar, Dec 2: Fearing that the government decision would increase “loot of forests”, Jammu and Kashmir (Non- Gazetted) employees association on Sunday demanded immediate rollback of the recent hike in the timber prices by the governor administration.
Mir Nazir, state president of J&K (Non- Gazetted) forest officers association (NGFOA), also threatened statewide protest if the order was not rolled back immediately.
“The authorities are trying to make the corporation financially strong on the shoulders of poor people. This happened first time in the history of forest department right from Maharaja rule,” Mir said.
“The hike in the rates will cost more risk to the forest employees (territorial). By this decision, the government has actually annoyed poor people who might resort to forest loot given that they need timber to build residential homes and may not afford to purchase it through the exorbitant and very high rates set by the government,” he told GNS, and demanded immediate revocation of the order.
He said that the task of distribution shall be resorted back to the forest department.
He said whenever there are forest fires, people living close to the forests rush to douse off the flames.
“The main reason for them to douse the flames is to ensure that forest cover is needed by them and the need includes the timber,” he said.
The people putting up in the forest areas have also voiced concern over the hike in the timber prices and have demanded its immediate rollback.
Expressing concern over it, the people said that if the order was not revoked, there were apprehensions of more timber smuggling due to “unprecedented” hike in the prices.
“We are poor people and cannot afford money to purchase the timer at such unprecedented hike. There are chances of more timber smuggling,” said Mohammad Sultan flanked by other residents of Kupwara district.
The new order was issued on November 22. The government till recently provided highly subsidized timber to people living near forests and villages to discourage smuggling. However, the rates of the timber have been increased several times. People used to get the quality Deodar timber at Rs 350 per cft that now is priced at Rs 1210 for Above Poverty Line (APL) people while for Below Poverty Line (BPL) it will be now more than double the cost – at Rs 712.
Similarly, the new rate for Kail timber is Rs 776 for APL and Rs 458 for BPL, while as Fir (Badlu) timber will be provided at the rate of Rs 403 and Rs 237 for BPL.
The people said the adverse weather in this Himalayan region has made the construction of houses a basic necessity, and hike the rates to such level was unbearable. The order must be revoked at the earliest, they demanded.
An official echoed the concern of the people and asked the government to relook into the order.
“Most of the people living in the vicinity of forests are backward and even middle-class people would not be able to bear the costs,” he said. (GNS)

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