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Timber smuggling rife in Kashmir

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Srinagar, India (UPI) Jan 26, 2011
Smugglers are using political unrest in the Kashmir region of India to conceal their increasing operations in the black-market timber trade, officials said.

The chaos resulting from a faceoff between pro-freedom Kashmiri youth and law enforcement agencies has led to a rise in the illegal smuggling of timber, Inter Press Service reported Wednesday.

"We are helpless, we lack both infrastructure and manpower," Manzoor Ahmad, Kashmir's chief conservator of forests, says. "Each forest guard has to guard 10 square kilometers of forest without the help of any vehicle."

His department has begun measures to curb smuggling, Manzoor says.

"We have liberalized the import of timber from outside Kashmir to ease pressure on local sources of timber. We don't charge any tax for the imported timber upon its entry in Kashmir and allow its transportation within Kashmir without any transit documents," he told IPS.

But private timber depot owners allege that some forest officials ask for bribes even for the transportation of imported timber.

"They charge 25 rupees (50 cents) per cubic feet of timber," Ghulam Ahmad, a private depot owner in Srinagar, said.

Illegal felling of trees is so widespread in some areas that the practice has started triggering landslides, officials said.

"We don't have any other means of income. We simply feed on the forest," a timber smuggler told IPS on condition of anonymity. "I know it is not a respectable job, but when I look around I don't find anything which can fetch me an income."

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