CAUTION:only loggers allowed

CAUTION:only loggers allowed corrupt forest officials, timber mafia, and poor government planning have led to extensive destruction of the only remaining natural forests in northern Bihar. The 91,000-hectare (ha) Valmiki Tiger Reserve ( vtr ) in the district of West Champaran on the Indo-Nepal border is fast losing its forest cover due to rampant felling of trees.

The Gandak river, which serves as the boundary between India and Nepal, has also changed its course, washing away about 2,500 ha. "More than one lakh valuable trees have been washed away from the forests. Forests worth Rs 142 crore have been destroyed due to water-logging,' reveals Ashok Prasad, conservator of forests ( cf ), vtr . Besides, the shifting of the river has been beneficial for Nepal. About 2,200 ha of the forest land now falls on the Nepalese side of the river. This land has now virtually become a no man's land, a haven for timber smuggling. The government, however, has turned a Nelson eye, leaving the forests at the mercy of international smugglers. There are allegations of Pakistan's Inter State Intelligence's ( isi 's) involvement in this heavy destruction of forests. "It seems smugglers are operating from the land now in the Nepalese territory,' says A K Sinha, divisional forest officer, vtr (Range-I ) .

Some forest officials from this reserve have already been implicated in Bihar's biggest forest scam during 1983-94. "This forest scam would be to the tune of Rs 100 crore,' says J L Srivastava, the forest official who unearthed the scam. More than 20,000 sal trees have been felled in this period. And the culprits roam scot-free.

The forest department here hardly receives any funds for conservation efforts. It does not even have the money to provide salaries to the staff. Since 1994, when the forest was included in the Project Tiger, fund flow has virtually stopped. The decision to include the forests in Project Tiger is proving to be devastating. There have been no funds since 1994 for regeneration of forest cover, protection of wildlife and providing employment to villagers totally dependent on the forests. Assistant conservator of forests ( acf) Aswini Kumar says the field staff have not received salaries for the last 10 months and the forest guards for 15 months. "We do not have our own money to send accused to jail or bring the seized materials to our offices,' says Buwaneshwar Khan, a ranger.

Also, a major portion of the forests has been declared