HYDERABAD: Stretching along hundreds of kilometres across northern Telangana, Godavari river basin has a unique landscape, dominated by species of teak, specifically in the forests of the erstwhile districts of Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam.
While the teak forests in these districts form the habitat for a wide variety of wild animals like tiger, hyena, wild dog and gaur, due to the high value that teak commands in the timber market, these forests also attract timber smugglers in large numbers.
Forest officials working in Telangana pointed out that decades-old large teak trees with huge girth were now limited to dense areas of very few teak forests in the State. The forest department has been mapping out such regions with human habitations in their vicinity through satellite imaging, so as to take measures to protect the trees.
Owing to the pressure laid on Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao to protect forests from timber smuggling, the forest department has stepped up its vigil to curb the menace. Increasing vigil at forest check posts, along the routes that are usually used by smugglers and cracking down on erring saw mills form an important part of their solution.
The department has booked more than 330 cases, arrested more than 160 persons and seized timber, mostly teak, worth close to `70 lakhs after conducting more than 1,300 raids on saw mills, carpenters and habitual offenders.
The tree trunks obtained legally by timber depots or saw mills come with hammer marks on both ends, permit documents and measurements of the trunk. However, tree trunks that are smuggled out of forests have none of these. Once illegally extracted tree trunks from forests reach saw mills, they are immediately sliced as planks and are mixed along with planks obtained from legally obtained tree trunks. Hence, it becomes imperative for the forest officials to catch the smugglers before they reach a saw mill.The forest department has decided to add 50 more forest check-posts to the existing list of 38 check-posts in the State.
The department has sourced a list of about 450 habitual offenders of various forest and wildlife crimes, including timber smuggling. Telangana forest department, PCCF (Vigilance), P Raghuveer said that the officials were keeping a tab on the offenders and have decided to book anyone who was caught more than twice for timber smuggling under the Preventive Detention Act. They have already initiated action under PD Act in over 20 cases.
Bamboo smuggling, poaching in M’nagar
Nagarkurnool: Forests in the erstwhile Mahbubnagar district, particularly in the areas of Ambrabad Tiger Reserve of Nallamalla forest range have been vulnerable to illegal felling of trees and poaching of wildlife. The Achampet forest range, which include areas of Kalwakurthy, Achampet, Lingala and Kollapur mandals have recorded movement of tigers. Smuggling of bamboo from forests is rampant in the areas of Lingala and Kollapur. The smuggled bamboo is transported using small bullock carts, stocked at secluded places and further transported in trucks. So far, the forest officials have filed 188 cases against smugglers. As many as 10,000 bamboo sticks, 23 bullock carts and a few vehicles were also seized by them.
Local gangs help smugglers in Nizamabad
Nizamabad: Nizamabad district has 105 saw mills out of which 95 are actively functioning and only 5 have been seized. Each saw mill has a turnover of over `1 crore each year. Smuggling gangs reportedly indulge local smugglers by offering a good remuneration for every stock they help score. This was discovered by officials in recent seizures. While senior officials are unable to invite political attention to the issue while the lower-level officials continue to encourage the illegal trade of teak wood between smuggling gangs and saw mills.
Karimnagar finally gets check posts in sensitive areas
Karimnagar: Among the newly formed districts, Karimnagar may be the last to install check posts to curb illegal transport of teakwood. After Rajanna-Sircilla, Peddapalli and Jagtial, the police and forest officials have come together in Karimnagar to erect check posts. In-charge Forest Officer of Rajanna-Sircilla and Karimnagar district, V Srinivas Rao, said two check posts have been erected at Peddamma temple and Marrimadla. He also said that although there is no forest in Karimnagar, teakwood is imported from other states to the district.
No major smuggling reported in medak
Sangareddy: In the united Medak district, forest officials have dug large trenches in forests to curb transport of wood. Barring some minor incidents, no major smuggling was reported from the district.