Gorkhatimes

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Timber ban threatens forest pay & green

Posted by Ramesh Khati on August 20, 2009

Kalimpong, Aug. 19(The Telegraph): The future of the Kalimpong division of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and its 430 employees are at stake — thanks to a ban on timber trade imposed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The employees have not got their salaries for July yet and the division has been able to generate negligible revenue for close to two years. The Morcha ban was part of its non-cooperation movement for Gorkhaland.

“Yes, the staff is yet to receive their salaries. I am hoping that they will be able to get theirs within the next two to three days,” said Ujjal Ghosh, the divisional manager.

The employees, however, complained that they had been receiving similar assurances for the past couple of weeks. “Whenever we meet Ghosh, we are told that we will be given our salaries in the next 2-3 days which is not happening,” an employee said.

Ghosh was worried that if the corporation was not allowed to go for timber trade, the future of the division would be bleak. “Timber operation is our bread and butter, but we have been able to do very little trading for about two years now. The revenue generation has been almost nil,” he said.

The division earns 90 per cent of its revenue from timber, while the 10 per cent comes from eco-tourism and sale of minor forest produces. “We have a backlog of 45 hectares. If we are allowed to fell trees in 50 per cent of the area, we will be able to pay the salaries of the staff for the next two years,” he added.

The corporation has not even been able to dispose off timber worth about Rs 2 to 3 crore that were sold in auctions in December because of the Morcha ban. The logs are rotting in the depots.

Kalimpong used to be the major revenue generating division till five years ago. Ghosh, however, denied that the revenue generated from Kalimpong used to be drained out to the plains, which was one of the main reasons behind the Morcha ban. “We are ready to provide all information in this regard,” he said.

Of the roughly Rs 10 crore yearly earnings of the division, about Rs 6 crore is spent on the salaries.

The official apprehended that protection of forests could be affected if the employees were deprived of their salaries and the hill people were not getting sawn timber from the sale centres. This might lead to illegal felling.

Kalyan Dewan, the president of the Morcha’s Kalimpong unit, has, however, taken a dig at the corporation.

“Instead of preserving and protecting our forests, its only motive is to earn revenue. It was created by the state government to exploit the forest resources of the hills,” he said.

But Ghosh defended the felling. “When we fell trees, we do it with the prior approval of the Centre,” he said.

On the fate of the employees, Dewan said they were the “liabilities” of the government and “it is for the state to pay them.”

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