India — Hundreds of trees worth lakhs were burnt and numerous animals and birds were charred to death in a forest fire at Gurdialpura bir near Samana on May 22. The police have started investigations and arrested a forest guard as there are allegations that the fire was a handiwork of forest officials to cover up theft of trees over the last few months.
A number of officials of the forest department posted at Patiala are under the scanner following the registration of a case pertaining to the theft of trees and firewood from Gurdialpura bir. The fire occurred after the theft incident came to light. Punjab Minister for Forests and Wildlife Tikshan Sud has ordered a probe and promised strict action. A bir is a protected forest area where animals and trees are kept in natural surroundings, and the forest department is responsible for their protection.
According to sources, illegal felling and selling of trees in the restricted Gurdialpura bir had been continuing unabated for the last several months with certain forest officials being hand in glove. Once the matter reached the forest minister, he ordered the department officers to do a counting of the trees in the forest and submit a report, following which certain people allegedly tried to set the forest on fire to escape punishment.
The FIR registered at Badshahpur police station names forest guard Gurdeep Ram, Karnail Singh, Avtar Singh, Niranjan Singh and other unidentified persons. We are probing the role of other officials who connived with outsiders to smuggle forest wood, said a police officer.
Conservator of Forests, Patiala, Sukhdev Singh Bhatti said strict action would be taken against anyone found guilty. He, however, could not say what measures were being taken to check the menace. We have two district forest officer-level officials posted to look after Patiala and it is their responsibility to stop any theft of wood from the forestland, he said.
Tikshan Sud told The Indian Expressthat an independent probe was already on by the police and no one would be spared if the charges were proved. The incident is tragic as many animals and trees were burnt. If need be, we will get the matter probed by a different agency and fix responsibility, he assured.