Ban on timber trade since May has left logs worth millions decayingThe ban has led to a shortage of timber in Sudurpaschim Province while consumers are forced to pay exorbitant prices.
Earlier this month, Mahesh Joshi, a provincial assembly member in Sudurpaschim Province, announced that tonnes of illegally bought timber were being used in the construction of various public and private buildings in Kanchanpur district.
“Illegally felled trees are being used in the construction of a campus building in Belauri, Kanchanpur,” Joshi said at a programme in Dhangadhi e. “Many other government, non-government buildings and private housing are also using seized wood for construction.”
The use of seized illegal lumber in construction has escalated in the province since the federal government imposed a nationwide ban on logging. and timber sale in Kailali and other districts of the province, Joshi added.
On May 28, the government had put a stop to logging and transportation of timber for a number of reasons: to investigate alleged financial irregularities in the sale of timber and in inviting tenders; to ensure transparency in the expenditure of the community forest funds; and to curb rapid tree felling that was taking place in the first months of 2020, according to Krishnadatta Bhatta, chief at Pahalmanpur Division Forest Office in Kailali.
According to Sindhu Prasad Dhungana, spokesperson for Ministry of Forest and Environment, the cabinet decision to put a ban on timber sale had also come up with forming a high-level investigation committee to produce a report within two months of the committee beginning to work.
“The committee was formed on June 10 and it started working from June 29,” said Dhungana. “Hopefully, the committee report will decide the fate of the ban.”
Following the reports of alleged irregularities, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee under the Parliament had formed two sub-committees to probe the matter.
A sub-committee led by lawmaker Shanta Chaudhary had visited western districts while the committee chairman Purna Kumari Subedi led another five-member team to the eastern parts of the country.
“The two sub-committees have conducted field visits. We have also been discussing the matter with experts as well as the Forest Minister and officials,” Subedi told the Post. “It will take some more time to make public our findings of the field visits.”
Since the government’s ban, consumers of various forests haven’t been able to get timber through the District Forest Products Supply Committee in Kailali. Meanwhile, as many as 13,500 cubic feet timber, which is the stock of the supply committee, has been left to decay in the monsoon rains.
Currently, around 500,000 cubic feet timber in various forests of Kailali are rotting away while the illegal smuggling of timber is thriving, according to Ram Chandra Kandel, Division Forest Officer in Dhangadi.
Despite the ban, however, the construction of houses and development activities have continued in the province, according to Kandel. “All legal supply channels have been shut off but construction has not stopped,” Kandel said. “This indicates a boom in illegal timber trade in the province, especially in the urban areas. But our hands are tied at the moment.”
Consumers complain that the shortage of timber in the market has pushed them to resort to buying wood from illegal sources at high price.
For this reason, Keshav Pant, a local of Dhangadhi Ward No 4, said he hasn’t been able to complete the construction of his house. “The supply committee and community forest committee did not provide timber for the construction,” he said. “I, therefore, had to buy timber logs illegally and at a higher price.”
According to the Division Forest Office in Dhangadhi, a total of 415 consumers have filled timber demand forms for the construction of their houses. Among them, 200 forms have been verified by the Division Forest Office for timber collection after inspection of construction works, said Kandel. “But timber is yet to be supplied to the consumers.”
If there’s anyone who is taking advantage of this disparity in demand and supply, it’s the smugglers who have been selling the logs at exorbitant prices. And the locals are left with no choice but to buy from them.
“When I bought it via illegal channels, it cost about Rs 2,000 for one log (7-feet long and 4-inch wide) whereas normally, a log with the same dimension would cost Rs 1,500 if it was provided by the supply and community forest committees,” said Pant. “I may not be able to complete the construction of my house at this rate.”
Parliamentary committee chairperson Subedi said she was aware of the grievances of forest user groups on the existing ban.
“Community forest users have complained about the existing blanket ban on harvest and selling of timber,” said Subedi. “They have been saying such restrictions should have been in areas where irregularities were reported, not across the country. But the ban was imposed by the Cabinet so it will make the final call regarding the ban.”
Joshi, the provincial assembly member, says that the government must resume the supply of timber to stop the illegal trade. “The forest department can take action against anyone found guilty,” he said. “But it is not wise to stop the production of timber from all forests. This has caused a shortage of timber in the market and promoted illegal logging and smuggling.”
It’s ironic that there’s a shortage of timber in the market while the legally felled timber is rotting away, said Ghanashyam Chaudhary, a timber entrepreneur in Dhangadhi. “Around 5,000 cubic feet timber which tradesmen have already paid the tax for is decaying in the forests,” he said.
But the Division Forest Office has said that it does not have the authority to decide on the release of already-felled timber lying in forests. “We can’t do anything even if the businessmen have already paid the tax,” said Kandel, the division forest officer. “They have to wait for the government decision. The May 28 decision has directed forest offices to keep the felled trees as they were discovered in the forest areas.”
In Kailali, as many as 500,000 cubic feet timber felled in many community and national forests lie unused, according to the forest offices in Dhangadhi and Pahalmanpur.
Kailali has 62 community forests along with a national forest. The government generates annual revenue of more than Rs 190 million from timber sale by district-based forest offices, according to Kandel. The revenue, however, dipped significantly last year. “We could only generate Rs 50 million due to the restrictions in the last fiscal year,” Kandel said.
The ban has little benefit to both the government and the consumers, according to Harka Bahadur Kunwar, chairman of the Financial and Natural Resource Management Committee in Sudurpaschim Province.
“While the consumers are being cheated of a fair price, the government stands to lose revenue from timber trade this year,” Kunwar said. “The government authorities can carry on with their investigation on discrepancies but it would do no harm to allow the sale of the already felled trees.”