Timber smugglers find alternative means of livelihood in Siliguri

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Siliguri, June 13 (ANI): A village of timber smugglers, Kholachand, in Siliguri in West Bengal, has turned to more legal means of livelihood, with the help of the forest department.

They are making Sal leaf plates and selling them for a decent price.

Over 200 families with nearly 1000 people altogether inhabit the village. Until recently, most of the adult male members of the families used to cut timber from the adjacent forests and sell them to earn their daily bread.

These villagers, living in poverty, were involved in smuggling, in absence of other means of livelihood. And being adjacent to the Baikunthpur forest area, with timber in abundance, timber smuggling was a lucrative option.

The forest officials found it difficult to curb illegal smuggling. They hence decided to address the cause that was leading to smuggling. They motivated the people to make Sal leaf plates and provided them with the necessary equipment.

"Earlier we used to cut timber from the forests but we faced difficulties as sometimes we get caught. So they (forest officials) asked us to make plates out of Sal leaves and promised us to give the leaves, and the machine, and also showed us the way of making it. They assured us of a better livelihood out of it," said Bhupen Roy, a villager.

The results have been good, the people have found an alternative occupation and the deforestation has reduced by as much as 80 percent as per the forest officials.

"People surrounding the forest area were involved in cutting timber for their daily bread. What we have done is we have motivated them; we have addressed their basic problem of livelihood. We have formed Forest Protection Committees, Joint Forest Management, so we are ready to address their daily livelihood problem by some alternative livelihood," said K Balamurugan, DFO, Baikunthapur Division, West Bengal.

The making of Sal leaf plates gives occupation to an entire family with children collecting the leaves, and adults stitching and selling them.

The villagers have also developed a sense of attachment towards the forests, as they depend on it for the leaves. By Taruk Sarkar (ANI)

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