Shillong, March 22: Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Wednesday said the government is aware of the issue of illegal production and transport of charcoal and has been leaving no stone unturned to prevent the same.
Replying to the call attention moved by UDP legislator from Nongpoh Mayralborn Syiem in the Assembly, Sangma said that several proactive measures are being undertaken by the Department to contain illegal transport of charcoal by way of constituting patrolling teams of forest staff to detect illegal transport of charcoal, drawing offence reports, prosecuting the violators in competent Courts of law, and seizing illegally transported or illegaly stocked charcoal etc.
He said that the Ferro Alloy Industries, which are consumers of charcoal, are regularly inspected for any illegal storage and illegal use of charcoal in their plant.
In Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills Districts, during the last 5 years, 23 cases have been filed in Court of law for illegal transport, production or storage of charcoal.
In West Khasi Hills District alone, thirteen cases were filed in 2022 for illegal production of charcoal.
Apart from these, two cases have been compounded for such offences in Ribhoi district.
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Further, a total quantity of 95 metric tonnes of charcoal has been seized during the last 5 (five) years and a total sum of Rs 2,60,000 has been realised as compounding fees.
Recently, the DFO Nongstoin has attempted to control illegal production and transport of charcoal by requesting the District Magistrate to promulgate Section 144 CrPC in West Khasi Hills district.
The West Khasi Hills Forest Division has also conducted awareness camps in the villages besides use of social media to spread the message of importance of conservation of our forest resources.
The chief minister said it may not be inappropriate to state that the area of operation and jurisdiction of the State Forest personnel has been circumscribed by virtue of para 3 (1) (b) of the 6th Schedule of the Constitution which restricts the jurisdiction of the State Forest Department in the management of forests to only State owned forests viz., Reserved Forests, Protected Forests, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
According to him, management of forests other than State owned forests etc. falls within the jurisdiction of the Autonomous District Councils.
The District Councils in exercise of jurisdiction conferred under these provisions of the Constitution have legislated their respective forest laws for e.g. the Khasi Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Councils have legislated United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Management and Control of Forest) Act, 1958.
“Thus vast forest areas, which are under the private or community ownership, falls under the jurisdiction of the Autonomous District Councils who are also expected to contribute their bit to control illegal production and transport of charcoal,” he said.
Further, Sangma said that it would be worthwhile to state that no case of illegal production of charcoal has been detected in either Reserved Forests or Protected Forests in Ri-Bhoi District and West Khasi Hills District.
He said that the attention of this August House is also drawn to the fact that the NGO of Meghalaya viz., Meghalaya Clean and Green Organisation have complained to the Chief Forest Officer, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council against the illegal transport of charcoal.
“Therefore, all the three stakeholders need to combine their forces, will, spirit and the resources they have in their respective control to tackle the menace of illegal production and transport of charcoal,” he said.
“The State Forest Department would also be more alert and vigilant in these matters and continue to inspect the vehicles plying through their check gates to detect vehicles carrying illegal consignment of charcoal and take appropriate action against such illegal consignments and perpetrators of such offence in accordance with law,” the CM further asserted.