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Friday, May 25, 2012

DFO, 15 others injured in timber mafia attack in Budgam

Mian Altaf: Arms have been denied to FPF since 1996 but now we will equip our guards and detain smugglers under PSA

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

BUDGAM, May 24:  In a bizarre offensive, carried out audaciously in upper Budgam, members of a timber mafia have left 16 Forest officials, including Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Pir Panjal Division, injured in Arizal area last evening. While as Minister of Forest, Mian Altaf Ahmad, has immediately ordered a major crackdown on the timber smugglers, Budgam Police, in coordination with officials of Forest Department and Forest Protection Force (FPF), have booked 23 of the assailants in a criminal matter and launched manhunt to arrest the most wanted of the timber smugglers and assailants.

Authoritative sources told Early Times that DFO of Budgam-based PP Division, Syed Humayun Qadiri, laid an ambush near Damdam in Sutaharan forest cover of Arizal-Khaag belt, in Tehsil Beerwah, alongwith a team of his subordinate officials last evening. DFO had received specific information regarding the possible movement of a group of timber smugglers allegedly planning to fell a number of green conifer trees. On sighting a group of nearly 20 smugglers at 1830 hours, the Forest team swooped on them but they managed to escape. Within two hours, when the completely unarmed Forest team was still on the ambush, some 50 smugglers, all carrying ponies and wielding batons and axes, laid a cordon around the DFO and his team and struck on them ferociously.

Even as the Forest officials resisted and they managed to escape, as many as 16 of them suffered fractures and sustained injuries in the murderous attack on them. Some of the missing and injured officials surfaced only in the morning today. Those injured in the attack included DFO Syed Humayun Qadiri, Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) Altaf Ahmad and two Range Officers. They were evacuated and rushed to Sub District Hospital Khansahab late last night and therefrom referred to SKIMS Medical College Bemina. DFO, who received over a dozen stitches in his head and has broken his right arm, was further referred to SKIMS Soura. However, in the morning, most of the injured officials, including the DFO, reached back to their headquarters in Budgam and they resolved to carry on their fight against the timber mafia ‘decisively’.

Mr Qadiri told this newspaper that the smugglers, about 50 in number, outnumbered and overpowered the Forest team as they were on horses and were all armed with lathis and axes. “It was a narrow escape for all of us as we were completely unarmed”, he added. He asserted that, inspite of the murderous attack, Forest officials were determined to take on the smugglers and wipe them out completely from Sukhnag Range (Beerwah) and other areas of upper Budgam.

Forest Minister Mian Altaf told Early Times that denial of arms to officials of Forest Department and FPF guards was the main problem as it was because of this advantage that timber smugglers had been felling trees and carrying out transportation of the timber with confidence in certain areas. “But, after last night’s attack, we are determined to acquire the weapons this time and launch a decisive battle against the timber smugglers”, he said. Mian revealed that today itself he spoke to Police and other agencies, who had prevented supply of arms to FPF since its inception in December 1996, and it had been made unambiguously clear to them that no dilly-dallying and creation of hindrances would be tolerated anymore.

Mian disclosed that on his express orders, Commissioner- Secretary Forest, Umang Narula, today took out the buried old file of acquisition of arms for FPF. He said that he would personally pursue the matter with all quarters so as to ensure that arms, ammunition and other necessary infrastructure were provided to FPF without further delay.

“I was busy with CM’s visit in Ganderbal when I was told about the attack of smugglers. I immediately deputed entire top brass of my departments to Budgam for launching a major crackdown and getting all the assailants and top wanted smugglers of upper Budgam arrested as soon as possible”, Mian Altaf revealed. He said that today itself, on his orders, three fresh camps of FPF were being set up in Sukhnag Range. “They have been asked to stay under tents till we create all necessary facilities”, he added. He asserted that all the accused would be got arrested and booked under PSA and other criminal matters.

SP Budgam, Uttam Chand, confirmed that FIR No: 32 of 2012 under sections 382, 379, 353, 148, 336 RPC and Forest Act 6 had been registered at Police Station Khaag and as many as 23 timber smugglers of Sutaharan and adjoining villages had been booked. He said that section 307 RPC (attempt to murder) was being invoked after some arrests and recording of statements. SP Budgam said that he had a detailed meeting with DC Budgam and senior Forest and FPF officials today and Police, in coordination with the two departments, had immediately launched manhunt to apprehend all the 23 accused.

Reports from upper Budgam this evening said that entire menfolk from Sutaharan and other villages has deserted their houses and only women and children were present in three villages. Reports said that FPF carried out a flag march through the villages but did not engaged into any confrontation with the women and others not involved in yesterday’s attack and timber smuggling.

Earlier today, on the Forest Minister’s instructions, senior Forest officials made a beeline to Budgam to express solidarity with the injured DFO and other officials as also to coordinate with Police and other agencies before launching a major combing operation in upper Budgam. Those who saw the injured officials at the OB Post and attended an extensive meeting included DC Budgam, Khursheed Shah, SP Budgam, Uttam Chand, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Vinod Ranjan, Director FPF, Shafeeq Ahmad, alongwith Joint Director FPF Kashmir, Mian Javed Hussain, CCF Kashmir, Manzoor Ahmad Khan, CF Srinagar, Nisar Ahmad Darzi, as also some other CFs and DFOs. Recently transferred DFO of PP Division and President of Forest Officers Association, Ghulam Hassan Bhat also paid a brief visit.

76 Forest officials killed since 1990
In hundreds of attack on the unarmed employees, timber smugglers and militants have killed as many as 76 Forest officials in Kashmir valley since outbreak of armed insurgency in 1989-90. Senior most official, who was kidnapped and gunned down by suspected militants while on tour of Brangi Project in Kokernag in 1990, was Conservator of South Kashmir, Pervez Qadiri. Now JD FPF Kashmir, Mian Javed Hussain, had managed to escape in that incident.

Suspected militants later shot dead ACF Mohammad Ashraf Mir while he was posted as Divisional Manager of J&K State Forest Corporation in 1994. Two more Range Officers were killed, one each in Kupwara and Bijbehara. The RO gunned down in Bijbehara belonged to Kashmiri Pandit community.

In 1999, militants killed Range Officer of Wildlife Protection Department, Ghulam Ahmad Ridshi, allegedly on account of his close association with then ruling National Conference. He was eliminated in an ambush in Tral area, though he lived as a protected person for several years in a CRPF-guarded hotel on Boulevard in Srinagar.

In Tral area again, unidentified persons burned to death a local Forester namely Ghulam Ahmad Shah. In 1997, smugglers hacked to death a Forest guard of PP Division near his residential village of Sonpah, Beerwah, in Budgam district.


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