OPINION

All extraction, transportation and sale activities of timber are happening under proper “checks and balances” mechanism

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In response to Dr Raja Muzzafar Bhat’s opinion piece…

By: Parvaiz Ahmad Parry

As an important stakeholder in the extraction, transportation & distribution of timber business for the Government, I intend to debunk some of the factual inaccuracies and myths being propagated in the opinion piece written by Dr Raja Muzzafar Bhat. The first misconception being propagated by Dr Raja is the idea that the Forest Department and Forest Development Corporation Ltd (FDCL in short) are at loggerheads on account of delegation of responsibility of distribution of timber from former to later from the year 2016 onwards. Besides, another notion has been expressed by the author that Forest Department senior officials and field staff are apprehensive that such an arrangement would lead to crises.

To this, I intend to inform the readers that both Forest Department as well as Forest Development Corporation Ltd (FDCL) are professional institutions of the Government and both the agencies work in tandem to achieve policy goals of the Government. FDCL having the sole objective and expertise of extraction of timber and its final disposal to achieve optimum revenue for the UT exchequer while meeting the legitimate requirement of timber of people living in vicinity of forests as well as those living far from it, has professionally done so for the past five years and no crises has taken place as alleged in the article.

It is to inform readers that FDCL (erstwhile SFC) was already providing timber in erstwhile “C Zone aka urban areas” prior to 2016, before the whole responsibility of extraction and distribution of timber was delegated to FDCL from the Forest Department. Forest Department being the custodian of the forests is fully involved in the extraction activities of the FDCL and regulating legal transportation as well as sale of timber stocks by FDCL.

The benefits of present system are multifarious. One that Forest Department at field level is now more involved with its core responsibilities viz. protection of forests from illicit smuggling and sale of green timber, curbing land encroachment by vested interests, afforestation and reforestation activities and most recent and important being implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which seems to be core area of concern of the author.

Two that all extraction, transportation and sale activities of FDCL are happening under the oversight of Forest Department, which is bolstering “checks and balances” mechanism in a Government setting. Besides Forest Department de-facto if not de-jure is the parent Department for all practical purposes and FDCL is a sister wing of Forest Department. Most of the senior officers as well as mid-level officers at the helm of affairs in FDCL including this author come from Forest Department & allied wings which itself should debunk this myth of power tussle between Forest Department and FDCL. Three of my Range Managers working in Budgam FDCL Division also come from the Forest Department. Dr Raja has further stated this concern that people living near to demarcated forests are being deprived of subsidized timber.

To that I would like to educate the readers by constructing a hypothetical scenario. Lets say, there are two persons viz. person “A” and person “B”. Let’s assume person “A” is a Senior Lecturer who lives near to the demarcated forests and person “B” is also a Senior Lecturer who lives far away from a demarcated forest such as a semi-urban (village) or an urban area. Should person “A” be given special subsidy on timber than person “B” on account of former being living adjacent to demarcated forest? Since, both person “A” and person “B” are in a relatively same socio-economic bracket, the answer to the question both from social justice and economic perspective has to be “Nay!”. That is why the Government in its wisdom has done away with erstwhile “Zonation System” for the purpose of distribution of timber at subsidized rates.

Now AAY ration card holders who are poorest of the poor are receiving 50% subsidy over the average auction rates of timber irrespective of their relative position from the demarcated forests. Which implies, both type of consumers, those living next to forest as well as far from it receive timber at uniform subsidized rates depending on their socio-economic standing. Rest of the consumers also receive timber at subsidized rates viz. 15% below the average auction rates. Besides, readers should keep it in mind that timber as a natural resource is not a freebee and it has to be utilized in a manner keeping in view the common good of all be it those living adjacent to forests or far away from it.

Realization of revenue for the Government is also one of the important factors in the process. Besides, Forest Department can provide timber on case by case basis under Kashmir Forest Notice or Jammu Forest Notice for repairing of log huts (kothas) or for construction purposes as mandated in the rules. However, indiscriminate exploitation of forests for construction of log huts (kothas) or timber will be detrimental to the overall ecology of this fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Dr Raja has further stated in his opinion piece that timber is lying in Palmaidan and Yusmarg meadows of Budgam district for the past three years or so, which is factually incorrect. Both these Timber Depots fall under the administrative and functional jurisdiction of this author and I am the best source of information on account as a representative on the Government. Relying on mere folklore or hearsay is a wrong precedent in journalistic propriety that one should be very careful of.

The timber lying in these Timber Depots is under various stages of transportation after regulatory permission is given by the DFO Territorial to FDCL (remember “checks and balances”?) after verification of every cft having been extracted from the forest by FDCL by the Forest Department so that every cft is accounted for. Dr Raja has further relied on folklore while stating in his opinion piece that timber is being transported from these Timber Depots to Ganderbal, Srinagar and Baramullah. The fact is that timber is first supplied to Concessional Timber Sale Depots (CTSDs) of Budgam District commensurate to demand in such Depots and rest of the stocks are supplied to FDCL auction depots, which are situated at Shalteng/PC Srinagar to feed timber to open market. None of the stocks have ever been transported to Ganderbal or Baramulla Districts en-masse since it is financially imprudent to do so, though there is no bar on supplying timber to other Districts as per the timber requirement in such districts.

In conclusion, as Dr. Raja has done in his opinion piece, I would like to inform readers that notwithstanding what is provided in the Forest Rights Act, to which Forest Department is bound to act upon and plenty of effort is being put by the Forest Department officers as well as field staff to settle the legitimate claims of the forest users as mandated by the Government, timber being a common pool resource owned by every citizen through Government has to be provided in the most transparent manner to every citizen whosoever may require it, be it those living next to forests or far from it.

However, timber can only be provided commensurate to the carrying capacity of the forests and use of plywood or other substitutes to traditional conifer timber such as imported timber, PVC, PVC and aluminum based joinery products should not be treated as a curse, as it seems to have been referred to by Dr Raja in his opinion piece. Afterall, preserving forests for posterity and non-human beings (wildlife) to achieve intra generational (between generations) and intra specific (between species) equity, rather than indiscriminate exploitation of forests for timber only to meet unsuitable demand of human beings cannot be the only moral compass guiding the civil society.

The author is Divisional Manager, J&K Forest Development Corporation Ltd, Pir Panjal West Extension, Budgam.

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