ROURKELA: The rich bio-diversity of dense Saranda forest along the Odisha-Jharkhand border is under threat from timber mafia. Organised inter-State timber smugglers have been continuously felling large trees for the last one and a half decade now. Even as bulk illegal transportation of wood sleepers in trains has been going on for several years now, the officials concerned have maintained silence over it.
Saranda forest spreads over 820 sq km in West Singhbhum district of adjacent Jharkhand, which shares vast stretch of forest border with Rourkela and Bonai forest divisions of Sundargarh district in Odisha. In the last one decade, the forest has become a hunting ground for timber mafia owing to inaction on the part of Jharkhand forest officials. The Rourkela forest division, on the other hand, has been waging a lone battle on the border region and is successful to some extent in containing the menace.
In the absence of coordinated efforts by Odisha and Jharkhand governments to stop timber smuggling, Saranda is slowly but steadily being pushed to the verge of extinction. In the recent years, timber smugglers have started using forest routes of Rourkela forest division to transport wood sleepers through rail and road routes.
On December 17, a goods train was detained at Lathikata on Rourkela-Barsuan section by forest and police officials and 200 cubic feet of stolen sleepers were seized. On Monday this week, 500 cubic feet of stolen wood sleepers were found near Sanbalijor area on Odisha-Jharkhand border by Rourkela officials. Rourkela DFO Sanjeet Kumar said the Chakradharpur-based Divisional Railway Manager of South Eastern Railway (SER) has been recommended to take disciplinary action against the goods train’s guard and driver and their custody has been sought for further investigation. However, the SER is silent on the issue.
The smugglers have been targeting Sal trees that have a trunk girth of three feet. It normally takes 40 years for a tree to reach that girth level.
Rourkela Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) J K Mohanty said investigations have revealed that timber mafia adopt a three-pronged strategy to fell and transport the trees.
They fell the Sal trees and stack the sleepers at suitable forest locations near approach roads. The sleepers are then transported in trains and vehicles to different areas in Odisha and Jharkhand.
Sources said with great impunity, drivers and guards of goods and passenger trains halt trains for 30 to 45 minutes at nondescript stations like Bhalulata and Jareikela in Odisha and Manoharpur, Goeilkera, Derua and Sonua stations in Jharkhand on Howrah-Mumbai route for loading.
The Bangurkela and Bishpur stations on Rourkela-Ranchi rail route and Rejnda, Roxy, Bimlagarh, Dumerta, Bondamunda and Karampada stations on Rourkela-Karampada rail route of SER are used for bulk smuggling of timber.