Allegations of tree felling and timber smuggling in Bandarban’s Tonkaboti

Photo: An elephant being used in timber smuggling

Hill Voice, 5 October 2021, Bandarban: A timber traders’ syndicate in Tonkaboti area of Bandarban Sadar Upazila under Bandarban Hill District has been accused of cutting down 100-year-old trees and smuggling timber outside Bandarban. Although these trees are brought from remote forests with elephants by cutting down them almost regularly, but the concerned authorities, forest department and administration are playing the passive role, said the locals.

According to local sources, a forest traders’ syndicate cut down the forest cover inside the hill keeping the outer cover of the forest intact, but the forest department remains silent due to invisible reasons. The timber of these trees is being smuggled to Chittagong through the neighboring Lohagarha upazila.

It has been learnt on the spot that an influential syndicate named Abdur Rahim Company is regularly cutting natural forest trees day and night from different places of Dakshin Hangir Mouza, Harinjhiri Mouza, and Panchari Mouza of Tonkaboti Union of Bandarban Sadar Upazila. They do not obey any law of the forest department. However, the timber smugglers claim that these trees are not from any forest. They are cutting down privately owned trees in exchange for money.

Rui Aung Karbari (village head), a local resident, said the two mouzas of Tonkaboti and Harinjhiri were once full of natural forests. But for several years, with the help of some local people, the gang of Abdur Rahim Company, an outsider timber smuggler, has been continuously cutting down trees in the natural forest. These smugglers cut down trees in the forest with the woodcutters and later brought the trees out of the forest with 4 elephants. In addition to large size trees, this cycle is also cutting down small saplings for various brick kilns.

Pairing Mro, headman of Daskin Hangor Mouza, said a few elephants were occasionally seen transporting timber in his mouza. Abdur Rahim Company, a timber business gang from Lohagarha, took the trees out of the forest with these elephants. It is known that timber smugglers become active every year when the dry season comes. They sent laborers into the forest to cut down the trees in the hills and brought the big trees to the Tonkaboti area by elephants. Later, they were cut in different shapes with saws and smuggled by truck.

Talking to the locals, they said that every year at the end of the monsoon season, roads are cut through the hills to facilitate the transportation of timber from the forest. From mid-December onwards, during the dry season, the timber is loaded on trucks and taken to Lohagarha via the Rangimukh-Nafartila-Charamba road.

Recently, it was seen on the spot that some workers had taken shelter in a house gifted by the Prime Minister for poor on the side of the road in Tonkaboti area. Talking to them at the time, they told this reporter that they cut down the trees of Abdur Rahim Company of Lohagarha and put them in the truck. Another group brings these trees out of the forest. They do not know whether the timbers have been legally licensed.

Divisional Forest Officer of Bandarban Forest Department Md. Farid Mian told reporters that according to the law, permission has to be taken to cut down trees from any land. Otherwise it is illegal.

Tonkaboti Range Officer of Bandarban Sadar Upazila Mainuddin Ahmed Chowdhury said, “I have just joined this new range. The forest law of plain and hills is not the same.”” There is no government afforestation in the Tonkaboti area. But he heard that timber was being smuggled there. He said that he will go for on-side inquiry the matter if necessary.