Several teak plantations raised by Tamil Nadu Forest Department along Cauvery river basin in delta districts have been illegally axed by the timber mafia. Similarly, large-sized sandal trees in Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Erode and few native trees in Jawadhu Hills, the Eastern Ghats near Vellore had also gone missing, admit department insiders stating that the issue has reached the top officials and vigilance department at state forest headquarters.
In his recent complaint to the forest vigilance department MS Ramadhas, state president, Tamil Nadu Retired Forest Officers Association said illegal felling and smuggling of maruthu trees (Terminalia Species) from the riverbank plantations of Pattukottai range of Thanjavur Forest Division had occurred to a great extent. More than 150 huge maruthu trees, with 200 cm to 350 cm in girth, worth about Rs 5 crore, were cut and removed illegally from the above plantations, which had been raised by the foresters for several years. This well organised and colluded illegal activities had taken place for the past three months, during the period of COVID-19 lockdown, with the alleged connivance of the local forest staffers, the complaint read.
Form-II permit, which was said to have been already issued for a wind fallen tree (or illegally felled trees) was used to transport these timbers to Thoothukudi and other places for export, the complaint copy said. This complaint should be verified with harbour authorities to know whether any consignment of the above timbers has been booked for export. Though there are arrests of tree cutters and drivers, department insiders are not investigated and suspended, the retired forester said.
When contacted, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests, Protection, Vigilance and Wildlife Crime AO Limatoshi said that in both the cases confidential department enquiry was on. In the case of Sathyamangalam, a confidential report is already submitted. The case of Thanjavur teak plantation felling is under scrutiny. There are complaints that local foresters have connived with timber mafia and the matter is under investigation. Despite COVID-19 lockdown, the vigilance squads and the dedicated staff are keeping the poachers at bay, Limatoshi noted.