Indian officials say Bhutanese apprehended were not directly involved in illegal timber trade

Indian officials say Bhutanese apprehended were not directly involved in illegal timber trade

On May 3, two Bhutanese nationals were detained by the Indian Forest Department in Assam’s Chirang district, after they were reportedly caught with a timber-laden van. While Indian local media reported that the two were caught in an operation conducted by the forest department in Assam’s Chirang district, officials from the forest department said that the two were not directly involved in the illegal timber transport.

In an operation on the evening of August 3, at Dadgiri, along the Indo-Bhutan international border, Indian forest officials intercepted and apprehended two Bhutanese nationals. During their on-site inspection, officials found a Bolero pick-up vehicle, bearing registration number BP 1D 1618, loaded with illicit timber. The operation resulted in the detention of two Bhutanese nationals, 30-year-old Bheem Bahadur Rai and 28-year-old Rajen Rai, who were found in close proximity to the timber-laden vehicle.

Following the seizure, the Bolero pick-up truck, along with the confiscated timber and the apprehended Bhutanese nationals, were taken to the Kajalgaon Forest Division for further processing.

The two provided important information during interrogation. They admitted that they were involved in illegal timber shipment on someone else’s behalf. Notably, they admitted getting paid Rs 10,000 for helping to carry the illegal timber shipment to the Assamese area of Chirang.

Bhim Bdr Rai in his statement stated, “I came to Dadgira village to buy some goods for my shop. At Dadgira, one man requested me to carry some timber to Kajalgaon for Rs 10,000.” He further stated that he had no idea about the timber rules of India and accepted the request in good faith.

The driver of the Bolero stated he came to buy goods with the vehicle owner. He stated, “In good faith, my owner agreed to transport the timber and deliver to the person as instructed,” to the person with the provided Indian mobile number.  He stated he too was unaware of Indian timber rule. “I am fully innocent in this case,” he had said.

Later, the Bhutanese detainees were released on surety bond at Nu/Rs 25,000. The Divisional Forest Officer, (DFO), Brahmananda Patiri, Indian Forest Service (IFS), Divisional, Chirang Division, said, “We have done whatever natural justice can be done because Bhutanese are not directly involved. They are trapped, by way of friendship.”

 “Both should never involve in the transportation of timber without verifying documents of the timbers, appear before the Range Officer as and when required or called for, and shall appear before the Range Officer during their transit within the route and inform about their carriage or regarding their entry into India,” a statement from the office of Runikhata Range Office reads.

The statement also reads: “In case, of any default or for any violation(s) of the conditions of this Surety Bond without any valid reason(s), the department shall be at the discretion to take appropriate action against me as it deems fit and proper in the opinion of the department.”

The local Indian media reported that the apprehension of two Bhutanese nationals, coupled with the confiscation of the timber-laden vehicle, “serves as a stern warning to those engaging in illicit activities detrimental to the environment.”

There was also a report on July 7, 2023, that one six-wheeler LP Bhutanese truck loaded with sawn timber was also apprehended from the Fulbari area near Gelephu from Manas Reserve Forest. No miscreants were apprehended. The seized materials are being kept at Runikhata Range Office in due intimation to Chief Judicial Magistrate, Chirang.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu