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Crackdown on timber smuggling drains NDFB
Published on 17 May. 2010 11:57 PM IST
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The crackdown on timber smugglers in Assam’s Sonitpur district for the past few months has forced the National Democratic Front of Boroland to turn more and more to abductions to prevent its coffers from running dry.
The latest to fall victim to the outfit is V.S. Bardekar, a senior Indian Forest Service official who was abducted from Daimara village under Bhalukpong police station of Arunachal Pradesh’s West Kameng district on Wednesday. Bardekar who was posted in Pune as joint director (administration), directorate of social forestry, Maharashtra, had gone to the village to photograph butterflies, a subject said to be close to his heart, when he was taken away by a group of armed rebels from the house where he was to spend the night. The NDFB has owned up to the abduction but said it had “arrested” Bardekar.
Sonitpur police sources said the NDFB — by a conservative estimate — was making about Rs 50,000 everyday by way of “tax” from timber smugglers, but that has now come to a stop.
“They (NDFB) used to collect Rs 50 for each bicycle loaded with timber collected from the forests in the areas bordering Arunachal Pradesh and at least a thousand bicycles were used daily for this purpose,” a police official said.
Sonitpur district shares a 230km border with Arunachal Pradesh. According to the official, each cycle could haul in about 30 cubic feet of timber slung on either of its sides. The smugglers would then hand over timber to those who dealt in it to be sent to several parts of the state for various uses, including construction.
“We went after them hard, seized and destroyed many cycles and now the smuggling has virtually stopped and with it the NDFB’s earnings from the activity,” he said. “So of late, they have turned to abduction and extortion to compensate for the loss of revenue from timber smuggling,” the official said. He said two persons from the district, including an 11-year-old boy, were still believed to be in NDFB’s captivity.
The official said the outfit needed a huge amount of money to keep it going. “There are camps to run, weapons to be purchased and the cadres to be paid to keep them happy so that they do not desert ranks,” he said. According to sources interrogating Ranjan Daimary, he used to receive nearly Rs 6 to Rs 7 lakh every month from Assam half of which was spent on running a camp at Khagracherri in Bangladesh and another in Myanmar. The rest he would use for his family’s upkeep.
Arunachal Pradesh police sources said operations were on to trace the abducted official. “We have some leads and working on those,” a source said. “Such operations have to be handled with utmost care because the life of the captive is at stake... we have to exercise restraint,” he said, while expressing hope that the operation would be successful.

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