Bhaderwah, May 26: Four forest officials, including a range officer, were placed under suspension on Sunday as authorities seized five sawmills in a special drive in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda district, officials said.
However, some owners alleged that their sawmills were non-functional for years and instead of cracking a whip against forest mafia, the forest officials “staged this drama to hide their infighting”.
Range officer of Neeru in Bhadarwah Forest Division, Javid Abdullah Dev along with incharge block officers Liaqat Ali Khan, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din and Jahangir Iqbal Najar were placed under suspension by principal chief conservator forest, the officials said.
They said the suspension followed preliminary inquiry into the illicit felling of trees in various compartments of Neeru range over the past couple of months.
On May 22, seven forest officials including DFO Bhadarwah and Range Officer Chiralla were suspended for illegal activities, including illegal felling of trees and encroachments in Chiralla forest range.
Earlier during the day, the officials said, sleuths of Territorial Forest Department (TFD), Forest Protection Force (FPF) and Police led by Conservator Forest (CF) chenab circle, B Mohan Dass and DFO Doda Alok Moria raided six premises at Gatha, Udrana, Chakka and Sartingal villages in Doda district and seized five sawmills.
“After receiving a specific information about the functioning of sawmills illegally in the peripheral areas of Bhadarwah town, we initiated a drive and seized five sawmills,” Moria told reporters.
He said the operation went smoothly without much resistance from any of the sawmill owners except at the premises of one Harish Kotwal at Udrana.
“We were threatened of dire consequences at Kotwal’s house in presence of senior officers from police and civil administration. We have taken the cognizance and action as per law will be initiated soon, ” Moria said.
The sawmill owners, however, denied any wrong-doing.
“Adhering to court orders, my sawmill is nonfunctional and locked since years, but to my utter surprise, the officials raided my premises and the rusted wheel was seized,” Sheikh Mohd Ayaz, resident of Gatha, claimed.
He said the officials were seizing nonfunctional sawmills, which indicates “they are either settling scores with their fellow colleagues or befooling higher-ups.”
Mohammad Ramzan Batt, another sawmill owner and sarpanch of Udrama, said he has no problem with the seizure because his mill was nonfunctional from the past three years.
“I think all this drama is being staged to justify the suspension of DFO Bhadarwah,” Batt alleged.