Thriving timber smuggling
AMID commonly accepted view that over the last several years, timber smuggling in large volumes from the interior areas of Manipur has been consequently causing serious economic losses and extensive environmental damage, forest and environment minister Th Shyamkumar carrying out vigorous drives to curb unauthorised transportation of forest produce deserves appreciation and support by every stakeholder. The recent cases of the minister himself as well as officials of the forest department impounding trucks carrying logs along the Imphal-Ukhrul road and in Mantripukhri area suggest that the state government needs to galvanise all its resources to check such illegal trading and to ensure that the timber syndicate does not gain the upper hand in connivance with corrupt officials. While placing a deputy ranger of the forest department under suspension for alleged incompetency should drive home the message that the government, minister Shyamkumar in particular, will not tolerate any misdemeanour by those who are supposed to preserve the forest and its invaluable produces, the very fact that such bulky loads had passed through the numerous security and forest department check points merits thorough investigation in order to trace the origin of the seized logs and penalise all those who, without any foreseeable reason, failed to check the loads or verify if the documents possessed are valid. The forest area of the state may be insignificant when compared with other larger states but Manipur being a border state has been the main transit route for transportation of illegal timbers, including large volume smuggled from the neighbouring Myanmar.
Regardless of its miniature size, Manipur is among the few states which have been losing greatest volume of forest cover as was confirmed in the Forest Report 2011 published by the Union Environment and Forest Ministry. Contrary to Manipur and Nagaland losing 190 and 146 sq km of forest areas respectively estimated for a two year period, as per the ministry report, Sikkim had the most enviable record in safeguarding the environment as its natural forest covers has remained undisrupted in the said period. Assam too fared commendably for only 19 sq km forest cover was lost over the same period. Out of the total shrinkage of 549 sq km natural forest in the north eastern region, Manipur and Nagaland accounted for nearly 50 per cent environmental destruction, the report had mentioned. Depletion of the forest area in Manipur was ascertained by comparing the satellite data compiled in between December 2006 to January 2007 with that of the existing data, and thus the gravity of situation pointed out in the ministry report should have served as a good lesson for the state government to undertake firm measures, which sadly seems to be missing considering the continuous smuggling activities as well as report about regular movement of log-laden trucks from Moreh side through the capital city in the wee hours. For long, illegal logging and their bulk transportation could not be stopped, suggesting that there exist a clandestine cross-border timber trade, out of which some well-connected individuals have been reaping all the benefits while serious damage is done to the fragile economy. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a more stringent timber legality standard that would be simpler to enforce and easier to evaluate.