Bhopal: The lockdown owing to COVID-19 outbreak has come as an opportunity for the timber mafia in Madhya Pradesh. In the last two weeks, the mafia has chopped down about 50 acres of forest land (which had more than 1000 trees) near Kushalgarh fort under Mangliya village of Mhow.
The area falls under the Indore district which has the highest COVID-19 cases in the state with 1,654 cases. Owing to the lockdown, majority of the forest personnel of Mhow range have been shifted to the urban area for COVID-19 duty, which gave a chance to illegal timber mafia to take over the area. Besides, the Forest Department officials and police patrol party are unable to reach the village since its roads have been blocked by the villagers due to fear of the infection by outsiders after the cases of COVID-19 shot up in Indore.
The Forest Department has witnessed double loss in the absence of patrolling. On one hand, loggers have cut teak trees, which were not grown fully, and on the other hand, farmers, who have their farmland adjoining the forest, have ploughed on forest land too.
When the village sarpanch Karan Singh was questioned about the felled trees in the area due closure of the roads, he said, “It was unanimously decided by all residents to close the road since we wanted safety of our people. I will also go to forest and then report the matter to officials.”
Mhow Forest Range Officer Mahesh Kumar Ahirwar said that they were now caught up in a “catch-22 situation”. “Our whole staff has been taken by Mhow SDM for performing COVID-19 related duty. Also, we are not able to reach in many forest compartments since villagers have blocked roads to contain the infection. This gives freehand to the timber mafia and they cleaned up the acres of forest of Mangliya village, Mhow,” he said.
“Six cases have been registered against the villagers but no arrest has been made as the court is not hearing the cases in which accused have to be sent to jail. So, we will arrest them after lockdown,” a Mhow Forest Police personnel told NewsClick.