Syed Ali Geelani And the Loot of The Forests In Kashmir
Burhan Wani to Covid: Great Cover-Ups for Forest Plunder
For more than 30 years, the so-called Azadi ki Ladayi in Kashmir has provided the safety umbrella for The Great Kashmir Mafia. Audacious land grab, unabated mining, timber loot from the rich Kashmiri forests – all have taken place under the protection of the sham façade called the Azadi ki Ladayi. Read on to find out the fantastic role played by Syed Ali Geelani, the leaders of the Hurriyat and Jamat e Islami in the organized and institutionalized loot of Kashmir’s forests.
For decades, the gun has ruled Kashmir for obvious reasons. Under the rule of the gun, nobody is accountable. In the garb of terrorism and lawlessness, nobody is questioned as to why lakhs of trees have vanished from Kashmir’s forests.
The Burhani Wani agitation provided the cover for rampant timber plunder. Now, Covid has played the same role. With people restricted indoors, smugglers are
Geelani’s Tahafuz Committees For Forests: Organized Loot
In 1990, militancy was on its peak in Kashmir. The full control of the Valley was in the hands of Syed Ali Geelani. During this time, Geelani formed Tahafuz (Protection) Committees in every corner of Kashmir. The grand stand taken by Geelani and his cohorts was that the Tahafuz Committees would look after the forests.
The real objective was something else. Tahafuz Committees served twin purposes.
One, Tahafuz Committees kept away the forest employees so that militants could move about in the forests without any disturbance.
Second, the Tahafuz Committes were given the power to sanction timber to Kashmiris who wanted to construct new houses. Traditionally, Kashmiri residential and commercial buildings are marked by significantly high use of wood. This is also a status symbol.
Tahafuz Committes were headed by the local leaders of Jamat e Islami. By selling the wood, Jamat e Islami wanted to generate revenue for Hizbul Mujahideen, its terror arm. In addition, high quality free wood was always available for Jamat e Islami leaders, and also for all those they wanted to oblige.
All the Kashmiris who wanted to procure wood from the forests had to get a sanction letter from the Tahafuz Committee. The sanction letter was given by the committee on the payment of some charges. The rate was fixed for deodars, walnut and other trees. The earnings made by the Tahafuz Committee were spent on providing clothing to militants, and some cash was given to them on weekly basis.
Party Time For Timber Smugglers
The trees acquired by Kashmiris for the construction of their houses made up for the small loot. The real loot from Kashmir’s forests was by timber smugglers. The smugglers were asked to deposit money with the Tahafuz Committees and take timber for sale.
One can imagine what kind of loot would have been made by the timber merchants in the forests of the Kashmir. All the Kashmiris knew of the great tahafuz offered to the forests by Geelani and his cohorts. Given the fear of the gun, nobody spoke up.
In my hometown Kupwara, a Tahafuz Committee was constituted by the Hizbul Mujahideen. Master Gul Sahab headed this committee for two years. He was chosen for this post because his relatives were terrorists associated with Hizbul Mujahideen.
After Master Gul Sahab, Shareef ud Din headed this committee. Shareef ud Din was a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist. He had spent time in jail too. Kashmiris would deposit Rs 500 for deodar, the high grade wood, and Rs 300 for kailoo, the low-grade wood. The sanction letter was provided by the committee head. It was a question of your capacity – how much wood you could cut down and take away. The leaders of Jamat e Islami used up as much wood as they wanted to construct their houses without paying any money. There was no bar on them for the loot of the forests.
When National Conference formed the government in 1996, a sizable number of their favourites were given licenses to cut forest trees and transport timber to urban areas. Similarly when the PDP-Congress coalition government was formed, again their blue-eyed men were given contracts to cut trees and transport timber from forests to urban areas. During the terms of both the NC and the PDP-Congress government, the forests in Kashmir saw big loot. The politicians of all these parties took heavy commission from the contractors. The maximum number of legislators, bureaucrats and other influential people constructed houses at Friends Colony, Srinagar during this period, with heavy use of wood.
Forest officers were instructed to ensure an uninterrupted supply of timber to these VIPs. The whole Forest Department was involved in the loot.
Burhan Agitation to Covid: Time For Loot in Kashmir Forests
The widespread agitation of 2016 after Burhan Wani was killed provided the perfect cover for the loot of forests in Kashmir. Smugglers, in collaboration with Forest Officers, did not leave any stone unturned to loot the Kashmir forests. There were agitations all over Kashmir, government systems had suffered, and nobody was there to check or stop the smuggling.
In the villages, smugglers would load loudspeakers on top of the trucks, blaring freedom songs and pass unchecked through the village roads. Nobody would stop them, thinking that the truck was being used for agitation.
In this way, loads upon loads of timber were smuggled to urban areas, and also out of Kashmir. During the Burhan Wani agitation, forests suffered a huge loss.
The Covid lockdowns have led to a similar loot of forests in Kashmir.
Due to fear of the virus, forest employees or the forest protection force did not go on duty. Timber smugglers have taken full advantage of the Covid fear, and have cut trees in Kashmir indiscriminately. The smugglers knew that nobody would stop them during this period. Since everybody was confined indoors during the lockdown, there were no public checks either. The smugglers gave bribes to forest officers or forest guards for free entry and exit for forests, and did immense damage to forest cover in the Valley, plundering it as per will.
In this way, during the Covid period, smugglers made millions with the help of forest employees, cutting down the precious trees of Kashmir. The forest guards made huge money in the form of bribes given by smugglers. Everybody related to the timber business in Kashmir smuggled priceless wood through the length and breadth of Kashmir. If the state lost its forest wealth, that was a small price for all to pay. The rich were happy because they were able to buy timber at comparatively lower prices.
The government must look into this indiscriminate loot of the forests, and check the assets and properties of forest officers. The salary of a Divisional Forest Officer is Rs 12 lakh a year approximately. From where do they manage to build huge luxurious bungalows? The government must ban all sawmills in the green zone and stop the smuggling and loot of timber from Kashmir’s forests.
No checks for top officers
Senior police officers in Kupwara district inform that precious walnut and deodar wood was transported out of Kashmir to Delhi and other cities where bureaucrats were constructing their houses.
“Whenever we confiscated valuable timber being smuggled out, we used to be told by senior officers not to take action and let the consignment move on,” a police officer said.
Tahafuz Committee for Forest Divisions Kahmil and Kamraj, 1990s
- Chairman, Master Gull Sahab. His relatives were terrorists with Hizbul Mujahideen
- Mumtaz sahab (Jamat e Islami leader, father of Mushtaq Peer, then Hizbul Mujahideen platoon commander
- Asadullah Tantray (Jamat e Islami, Rukkon)
- Abdul Rashid Malik (Jamat e Islami worker)
- Ghulam Hassan Rather, brother of Abdul Rashid Rather, a local militant of Hizbul Mujahideen
Tahafuz Committee for Lidder Forest Division, South Kashmir
In Lidder forest division of South Kashmir, Ali Muhammad Thokar of Waghama village, Ameer e Tehsil Bijehara, and Pahalgam; Muhammad Maqbool, a government teacher of Khiram village and Abdul Rehman Bhat of Marhama, then the administrator of Hizbul Mujahideen were the allotting authorities.
In Kulgam, the allotting authorities were Afzal Panipora, District Administrator Hizbul Mujahideen, Abdul Rashid Chehlan, Ameer e Zilla Jamaat e Islami for Anantnag and Kulgam. Abdul Ahad Thokar alias Qazi Ahadullah, the Second Lieutenant of Sayed Ali Geelani, supervised the overall loot of the forests around Srinagar