Ranchi: In Jharkhand, the forest mafia cut down 3.53 crore trees, spread over 350 sq km, causing a loss of about ₹822.79 crore to the state government.
This was revealed in a letter sent by the comptroller and accountant general (CAG) in reply to an application under the Right to Information Act. According to the CAG, even after the court’s order, the forest officials neither took any action to stop it nor did they file any case.
The matter regarding the Jharkhand forest department’s apathy towards loss of plantation came to light when the Jharkhand high court took up a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a suspended range officer. During the last hearing, the court had sought a complete report on this from the CAG. The total forest land in the state is 23,721 sq km.
The then range officer Anand Kumar (now suspended), who had filed the PIL, alleged that the wood Mafiosi, in connivance with the forest officials, are cutting expensive wood from the forest and selling them in Bihar, Bengal and Odisha, and minting illegal money. “Fake invoices are being raised for transporting. Not only this, about 50 thousand hectares of forest area have been encroachment up on. Concerned forest officials of the department have been informed about this, but no action could be taken,” claimed Kumar
Maximum felling of trees in Chaibasa & Saranda forests
The CAG in the report given to the court stated that till the year 2008, the maximum disturbances took place. Most of the trees were cut in Chaibasa and Saranda areas. Wood Mafiosi were doing the same thing elsewhere in the state. The CAG reported the matter to the state government in 2018 also. But no corrective step was taken. Significantly, since the formation of the state till now, trees are being cut continuously. Last year also many saw machines were found on the forest land in Sahibganj. Expensive woods were seized from there. Trucks laden with illegal wood were caught many times in other districts including Chatra.
Committee formed in 2017, but forest land was not notified
Officials alleged that encroachment had become a bane for the forest land since the formation of Jharkhand in 2000. Worried about reports of illegal grabbing of forest land, the state government had set up a high-level committee in the year 2017 after the CAG sent its audit report to the government. Officials said that the process to identify the forest areas under unauthorised occupation was stated, but it could not complete as yet.
Forest department counters CAG’s assessment
Forest officials said that the way the CAG has calculated the number of trees and assessed the loss is not correct. Trees have different rates. The CAG has calculated the value of all the trees on the basis of estimates and rates fixed by the Supreme Court, so it looks like a scam. Whereas in reality it is not so. If needed, the department will present its side in the court. There are many serious allegations against the person, who has filed the case in the court. Right now the case is going on in the court, so it is not appropriate to comment on it.