Community forest program in Nepal's Surkhet district in trouble as seven officials arrested within a year; alleged unscrupulous behaviour for financial gain, including illegal logging, timber smuggling, creating conservation challenges

SURKHET, Nepal , June 4, 2013 () – Chairman of Deuti Bajai Community Forest Group Siva Ram Oli has been in prison for over a year. He was arrested in Jun last year on the charge of denuding an area of the community forest, which he developed into plots before selling them to 24 different individuals.

The government had started the community forest scheme, thinking that entrusting the management of the forest to the public would help in its conservation. But the scheme has been taking its toll on the forests as the office-bearers in the Community Forest Users Groups (CFUG) are themselves found to be involved in destroying the forests. Oli's is only a representative case of the wrongdoing behind the depletion of community forests in the district.

The arrest of seven CFUC chairmen from different community forests in the district in the last one year for their involvement in the smuggling of forest products shows how the supposed protectors of public forests behave.

One week after Oli's arrest, chairman of West Saraswati Community Forest, Shiva Ram Regmi, was arrested for his involvement in a huge amount of logging in collusion with timber dealers and in violation of community forest rules and regulations. His case is still sub-judice and he has been released on bail.

District Forest Officer Shambhu Prasad Chaurasiya said that a new challenge has emerged in forest conservation after the people entrusted with responsibility for the sustainable management of forest resources are increasingly found involved in the illegal depletion of forests.

"The government had introduced the idea of community forests, thinking that the management and conservation of the forests will be easier with public participation and the collaboration of various stakeholders. But conservation faced yet another challenge after CFUG office-bearers started acting unscrupulously under the temptation of financial gain," Chaurasia said.

He also said that the district forest office (DFO) has warned dozens of CFUG office-bearers, besides making arrests on the charge of financial irregularities and illegal logging and smuggling of forest products.

The incidents of irregularity in the community forests have started coming to the fore lately after the DFO conducted awareness programs for CFUG members.

Recently, Katak Pariyar, chairman of Birendranagar-based Siva Shakti Community Forest, and Dhan Bahadur Khatri, chairman of Hariharpur-based Ranighat Community Forest, were arrested after locals informed the DFO about their involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber from their respective forests.

"The illegal logging and timber smuggling are nothing new. But now people seem to be more aware about such illegal activities," said Surya Prasad Sharma, assistant forest officer.

Not only CFUG office-bearers, but forest officers are also found to be involved in the irregularities. Babiyachaur Range Post chief Ram Bichari Thakur and forest officer Durga Nanda Yadav are under the scanner for their alleged involvement in irregularities at Shanti Community Forest and Patal Gairi Community Forest.

According to Chandra Prasad Thani, Surkhet district chairman of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal, forest officers are also found working hand in glove with the CFUG office-bearers in committing forest irregularities. The district has 74 Community forests at present. Published by HT Syndication with permission from Republica. For any query with respect to this article or any other content requirement, please contact Editor at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

(c) 2009 Nepal Republic Media Pvt. Ltd.

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