The Himachal Forest Department has unearthed a cedar oil extraction racket from Chopal in Shimla, a dense deodar forest area, bordering Uttarakhand accusing the previous Congress regime of inaction and giving patronage to the forest mafia involved in the illegal practice.
The expose has woken up the state BJP government and the state police to the large scale forest violations.
Out of the three persons named in four separate FIRs lodged at Chopal, one person was arrested on Tuesday under section 379 of IPC (Punishment for Theft) and different sections of the Indian Forest Act. Nearly 17,325 litres of Cedar oil — a high value timber extraction in the market for its medicinal and aromatic value, was seized by the police during raids on Sunday.
“Whatever stock we have seized was sufficient to show that the racket was deep-rooted. The police has started investigations after lodging four separate FIRs. One person has been arrested and more are to be nabbed soon,” said Additional SP (Shimla) Praveer Thakur.
Forest Minister Govind Thakur said, “What has come to light is just the tip of the iceberg. Since a large area of Chopal was still under snow, our parties could not comb the place completely. Yet, the government orders are very clear to nab the forest violators and wipe out the mafia.”
The racket had come to light with the help of a forest guard posted in the area, who had some clues about Cedar oil kilns functional in some of the local villages. He said no one had taken note of the practice for a while. He uploaded some pictures and videos of the illegal extraction, which went viral forcing the forest officials to raid the area and a few villages in the vicinity.
The stock seized in large containers is estimated to be worth Rs 1.2 crore rupees. There are reports about 15 illegal distilleries operating in the forest. Thakur said he has asked the forest department to provide full details about the procedure behind Cedar oil extraction in the forest areas, and also its market demand.
“I have been told that the product also comes under The Biological Diversity Act. We will ask the police to invoke all provisions of the law and arrest the guilty, apart from their mentors, whosoever high they may be,” he said.
Cedar oil is an essential oil derived from different conifers, including deodars. It finds its usage in the pharmaceutical industry, art and perfumery. The oil is produced by distilling cedar wood. It is also used as a base for paints. Most common uses of Cedar oil include hair growth, anti-inflammatory agents, toothaches, reducing skin irritations, relieving spasms, curing fungal infections, regulating menstruation, tightening muscles and cleansing out toxins.
Thakur said he was also looking into recent cases of illegal felling of trees at Koti in Shimla. He claimed a large number of tree felling cases have come to light in Chamba and Tara Devi forests during the previous Congress regime.
“The government has also gathered information’s on khair wood smuggling racket in lower Himachal areas like Una and Nalagarh. Some forest department officials were attacked and their mobile phones were snatched by the forest mafia recently. There were people, in the power, who had passed orders debarring the forest officials against any action in such cases,” he said.
Now, the forest mafia or drug mafia or even mining mafia, which was active in the state particularly in the areas bordering Punjab, will be dealt with sternly, he added.