Pahalgam: In brazen violation of 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 surrounded by tall pine trees all around.
Sources said that the hotelier, in nexus with some 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 for him in further construction.
“The hotelier was seeking permission from the last many years for extraction of dozens of standing pine trees in the front premises of his hotel. However, no officer had dared to grant him permission so far as he was instead accused of damaging the green wealth in front of his hotel,” a source said.
However, the 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 a 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 the hotel,” the source said.
“While as the useless part of the wood which can only be used as firewood was carried to the range office, nothing is known about the better timber part.”
The land on which the Grand Mumtaz hotel is built is state land and had been leased by the government several decades ago to the hotelier. As per norms, the permission for cutting of trees on the said land can be granted by 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 are the property of the forest department. But territorial forest authorities can neither grant permission for cutting down trees nor can do the extraction,” the source said.
State Forest Corporation (SFC) authorities who are supposed to carry out extraction of the trees following 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 the administration 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 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 Grand Mumtaz falls when it is actually a state land,” the official said.
The forest officers of the division contradicted each other when asked about the matter.
“The permission for cutting 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 that felling has happened in the premises of the hotel and not along the road, he said that “permission for extraction of some trees was also granted in one compartment.”
He, however, failed to give a 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 got proper permission,” Altaf said.
Asked whether there was permission for Grand Mumtaz or a particular compartment, the Range Officer said: “There was nothing like Grand Mumtaz. But you know when top officers are interested in anything, lower-rung officials have to even abide by their verbal orders. We can not discuss everything on phone,” he said.
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