Violating permission, extraction norms, forest officials cut dozens of pine trees in Grand Mumtaz premises
DFO, RO contradict each other
PAHALGAM, Sep 1: In brazen violation of the norms, forest officials in Pahalgam have cut down dozens of standing pine trees within the premises of Grand Mumtaz hotel owned by a rich and influential hotelier, Mushtaq Chaya.
Grand Mumtaz is located adjacent to the picturesque golf course and is sorrounded by tall pine trees all around.
Sources said that the hotelier in nexus with forest officials managed to get dozens of pine trees cut within the premises of his hotel in last one month. The trees were blocking the front view of his hotel and creating hurdles in going for further construction.
“The hotelier from last several years was seeking permission for extraction of dozens of standing pine trees in the front premises of hotel but no officer dared to grant him permission for the reasons that the hotelier was accused of damaging the green wealth blocking the front view of his hotel,” a source said.
However , source said, a forest range officer presently posted in Pahalgam entered into a deal with the hotelier and sought permission for extraction of some trees in nearby compartment which had deteriorated.
“Under the garb of the same permission the forest officials cut down dozens of pine trees within the premises of hotel,” the source said.
Ironically, source said , forest officials allowed the hotelier to use atleast half of the extracted timber for the wooden panelling of his hotel while as the useless lot which can only be used as firewood was carried to the range office.
The land on which Grand Mumtaz hotel is built is the state land and had been leased by the government several decades ago to the hotelier. As per the norms the permission for cutting of trees on the said land can be granted by the top revenue authorities.
“But in this case no consent from the revenue authorities was sought. Let us presume that the pine trees on the state land is the property of the forest department. But territorial forest authorities can neither grant permission for cutting down trees nor can do extraction,” the source said.
State forest corporation (SFC) authorities who are supposed to carry out extraction of the trees following the proper permission were kept unaware of all this to hide the fraud.
“All this plunder was done by the forest range officer Pahalgam following a proper monetary deal with the rich hotelier while admin was busy fighting covid and people were under lockdown,” the source said.
An official of the SFC wondered as to how the top forest authorities supposed to protect the green wealth can allow the ruthless felling of trees in violation of all the set norms just to please a rich hotelier.
“One wonders if the permission was granted for the extraction of over a dozen trees in some compartment , in which compartment Grand Mumtaz falls when it is actually a state land,” the source said.
The forest officers of the division contradicted each other when asked about the illegal and ruthless felling of trees.
“The permission for the cutting of all the deteriorated trees from Batkote to Pahalgam along the road was granted by the chief conservator to prevent accidents,” DFO Lidder , Mehraj Ahmad said.
Asked felling has happened in the premises of hotel not along the road, he said ,”Permission for extraction of some trees was also granted in one compartment,”.
He, however, failed to give the satisfactory answer when asked why SFC was not informed about the extraction and in which compartment Grand Mumtaz falls. “Chief sahab is authorised to do anything,” he said.
Range officer, Mohammad Altaf who supervised the plunder , contradicted his DFO and said that they had been granted permission for extracting firewood for Amarnath Yatra.
“We cut some 30 trees to arrange firewood for Yatra for which we had the proper,” Range officer said.
Asked was there permission for Grand Mumtaz or a particular compartment, RO said, “There was nothing like Grand Mumtaz. But you know when top officers are interested in any thing , lower rung officials have to even abide by their verbal orders. We can not discuss everything on phone,” he said.