Miscreants are taking advantage of the lockdown and are engaged in “illegal activities” in forests that fall under areas like the Merry View tea estate and Haldibari Village area under the Kurseong Forest Division, officials have said.

Kurseong Divisional Forest Officer J Sheikh Fareed has expressed concerns over such a situation in the forest areas and has said that the Merry View tea estate and Haldibari village under the Bagdogra Forest Range are turning into a hub of “forest crime,” while people have also been violating the countrywide lockdown for COVID-19 in these areas.

“This has endangered the lives of all forest dwelling communities nearby,” he said.

Mr Fareed quoted various sources as saying that several workers of the said tea garden under the Naxalbari Police Station in Darjeeling district are involved in several forest and wildlife crime for many years now.

“All the authorities should make a concerted effort and take stern steps or serious action against such miscreants so as to control forest crime,” Mr Fareed said.

According to him, on 19 March, he had conducted a joint raid with the help of different departments concerned or stakeholders in around 200 hutments in the tea estate, where they found 60-70 of the houses keeping either logs or sawn timber of valuable species such as Sal and Teak.

“We had then recovered forest produce worth Rs 6 lakh. Not only this, we were attacked while returning from the raid the same day. Several miscreants hurled stones at our team, while our staff members were also misbehaved with,” forest sources said.

One daily labourer of the Forest Department, Raju Subba, was also grievously injured in the incident and was admitted in the ICU in a private hospital in Siliguri. They had later filed an FIR at the Naxalbari PS against 200 “unidentified persons” and the tea estate management.

“Through different forest sources as well as videos and photos, we have collected data and identified the main persons involved in the incident,” Mr Fareed said.

According to him, the same gang was spotted felling trees inside the forest during the lockdown on 19 April. Accordingly, on 22 April, a second FIR was filed at the Naxalbari PS against all the accused, and Mr Fareed said no arrests have been made by the police so far.

Additional SP, Kurseong, Manoranjan Ghosh, confirmed the cases filed at the Naxalbari police station and said that investigations in both the cases are underway. “As these criminals are also flouting the lockdown rules and not maintaining social-distancing, they might spread Covid-19 among other villagers,” a forest official said.