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NBS Times Exclusive:Closure of NH 55 results in illegal tree felling

Monday, 25 March 20130 comments

Livelihood hit hard with eateries being shut down

Anand Ghatani
Tindharia March 25: Far from the maddening crowd, a hamlet better known for its links with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) profusely is reeling under continuous problem of illegal felling of trees thus triggering fresh assumption that the act may bring in more landslides to the region which has been designated as a landslide prone area in the past. 

Police in a sting operation last night seized a Maruti Van loaded with logs of teak wood considered to be most precious form of wood from Tindharia but could not arrest the persons involved in the racket. The seizure of van loaded with teak has sent a signal that the region has become prone area for the wood smugglers in the region. The smuggling seems easier given that the National Highway 55 is closed for the past two years after it was struck with a series of landslides in 2011 while the government so far has not initiated any repair works.

According to the police the van was loaded with 46 pieces of illegal timber and this is not the first of its kind seizure in the region. “This is a burning problem for the region that has been already struck with landslides that has shut down the highway for the past couple of years. The people it seems are not aware of the fact the effects of deforestation in the near future. The police has been on regular checks along with the forest department to monitor such illegal felling of timber but given the communication gap the place has with Siliguri or Kurseong sometimes it is difficult to get hold of the culprits,” says Robin Thapa, the inspector incharge of Kurseong Police Station. Tindharia and its adjoining area come under Kurseong police station.
Police in the past have seized several such consignments being smuggled to destination unknown so far. However, many in the area attribute the problem with the closure of National Highway 55 once a lifeline of the hills. Most of the people along the highway used to depend on the roadside eatery shops for their livelihood as vehicles ferrying tourists to the hills used to stop over for refreshment. Adding to the wooes, the problem has also persisted given the non-functioning of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) between Siliguri and Kurseong for the past two years.
“The people here are in a pathetic state as they have no means of livelihood in the area. The eateries were the best business that used to fetch handsome income to sustain life but the closure of both the highway and the DHR has doomed the availability of livelihood. The living cost has also risen in the area as a person has to spend more than 100 bucks to reach Siliguri these days. When the highway was open the travelling cost to Siliguri was merely Rs. 20,” a resident in Tindharia told NBS Times on condition on anonymity.

The forest department which is in charge of looking after the forest area interestingly has a different story to tell. “Our men continuously patrol the forest cover in the area but given the strategic location of the area used by the smugglers it is sometimes difficult to track their moves. Moreover, the area is a boarder area of different forest divisions that has been causing inconveniences for us to work,” said S. Anand, the Divisional Forest Officer of Kurseong. Anand opined that the shortage in manpower and that some of the staffs attaining old age is also a severe problem for the department to curb the menace.
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