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Forest guards in perilous journey to protect trees in Garo Hills

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Tura, Dec 5: Forest guards of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council are fighting an uphill battle against rampant timber smuggling with their backs to the wall.

Unarmed, lack of vehicular transport, non-receipt of their monthly pay for the last two years, yet they fight on. The story of these forest guards is all about struggle- on one side they don’t get their dues, on the other they risk their lives each time they step out of their range and beat offices for their daily duty.

Take the case of Friday night- December 4th, in which a team of the district council barely made it out with the skin of their teeth when they were accosted by gangs owing allegiance to timber mafia in the Rajabala and Phulbari plains.

A routine operation to seize illegal timber turned into a nightmare for field staff of the Phulbari forest range after they confiscated a vehicle loaded with almost two dozen sawn timber that was being moved to Assam through New Bhaitbari area.

“A team of GHADC raided illegal timber smuggling from Peshakandi, near New Bhaitbari, last night around 8 PM. On the way, while returning from Peshakandi saw mill where illegal timber were stocked, the road enroute to Bhaitbari was blocked by some unscrupulous miscreants by laying boulders, stones and timber logs. Even then, the men were undeterred and despite all odds they forced their way through the blockade and reached safety. Their courage and determination needs to be lauded,” told forest officials from GHADC.

A combined forest team from Phulbari Range and Balachanda beat office had been on patrol duty to flush out smugglers when they found a vehicle, in this case a Mahindra pik up truck bearing registration number ML:08 G 1640, at Batabari village around 8 PM.

On inspection it was found to contain 21 timber logs with no transit pass and other documents. The consignment was taken to Phulbari range office as seizure but the situation became delicate when the team from Balachanda was returning through the Bhaitbari-Rajabala road.

“As we were returning to our station in Balachanda forest check gate via Phulbari-Rajabala road, suddenly some unknown miscreants and people blocked the road at Sidakandi at around 1:10 AM. Luckily we were able to run away from that area,” the police FIR given at\ Phulbari police station by the affected forest guards mentions.

According to Range officer Vishnudev Hajong, it was a four member forest guard team heading back to Balachanda that was targeted by the mob with an intention to harm them.

“AS soon as the vehicle slowed down after seeing the road blockade groups of people on the side started shouting out that this was the vehicle used in the raid and to stop it. One forest guard Bestone Marak was driving it and he along with the others decided in a moment’s notice not to stop but drive through which is why they managed to escape. Had they been halted we don’t know what could have happened,” a worried ranger Hajong says.

According to forest guards deployed for duty in the area there is constant danger they face from smugglers who have ties to criminal gangs who are running the smuggling racket that is stripping bare the forest cover of Garo Hills.

Though these foot soldiers of the department operate under extreme conditions and lack of equipment for their duties, yet, their spirits remain strong.


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