Demands reinvestigation

Nima Wangdi

People of Jarey gewog, Lhuentse, are concerned with what they call illegal harvesting of trees both from state reserved forestland and community forest in their gewog.

Champ trees, according to villagers are almost finished due to illegal harvesting. Villagers said that trees are felled for timber without following rules and regulations in Ladrong and Zangkhar-Yabi villages.

Rinchen Dorji from Yabi village said that trees are still being cut and sawn. He said that trees are felled for Ladrong Lhakhang renovation, but they do not have permits. “The dzongkhag and project officials were supposed to take timbers from the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) and not cut standing trees,” he said.

Villagers said members of the community forest were neither paid nor informed about cutting down trees. A villager from Ladrong said the trees both inside and outside the community forest are felled. “We don’t know how many trees were cut. We cannot do anything about it.”

Rinchen Dorji said that the main objective of establishing community forests was to make people take ownership of forest resources and benefit from it. “This is not happening in my village.”

He said people are unhappy because both government and local government officials are not following the rules and procedures.

Villagers filed a complaint with the Anti Corruption commission (ACC) in January this year. Rinchen Dorji said that the commission asked the dzongkhag administration to investigate, the result, they said was not satisfactory.

Villagers again complained to the ACC for reinvestigation in August this year, but the complaint was denied claiming it to be an old case that was already investigated. Rinchen Dorji said that he also requested the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) for an investigation. The department initially said they would send a team for investigation, but it was later canceled for reasons they were unsure of. “The department is not investigating the case either.”

Rinchen Dorji said the officials need to visit the gewog and the villages and they will be able to see for themselves whether their complaints are genuine.

He said illegal felling of trees started in 2013 and it is continuing.

Director of DoFPS Lobzang Dorji said that the department dropped the investigation since the complainant had already filed a complaint with the ACC.

He said the department had already investigated the case four years ago but it was not like what villagers and Rinchen Dorji accused.

A letter from an officiating Director of the DoFPS to Lhuentse dzongdag in 2021 didn’t approve standing trees to be cut for Ladrong Lhakhang renovation. It instead asked the dzongkhag to allot mixed hardwood timbers in stock with Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited.

A letter from the Cabinet Secretary in 2020 to the Agriculture Minister also asked the ministry to allot existing timber stock with NRDCL for monastery and dzong construction purposes, instead of marking huge volumes of standing trees.