They are not just destroying the forest but also a craft
Plundering of sal forests in Assam by timber smugglers has pushed a traditional craft of boat making in lower Assam to the brink of extinction. Acute scarcity of sal wood due to wanton deforestation has resulted in multifold increase in its price making it difficult for the families engaged in boat-making to make both ends meet.
Plank and sawn wood of mature sal tree are used in making a traditional boat. A boat made of sal wood lasts for over 35 years. However, it hardly lasts five years if wood of other trees ( non-timber ) is used Carpenters with special skills make different types of boats based their utilities, such as boat used for fishing, for sand mining, for ferrying passengers, in boat race.
Satya Das, a master craftsman, says that he hardly makes a boat of sal wood now as the poor families, who need it most, cannot afford one due to high cost. Whatever sal wood is available in the market are smuggled and are priced very high, he adds.
Rita Choudhury, a silviculture scientist says sal attains maturity after 30 years and wood quality of this timber species is dependent on the soil. sal forest of lower Assam is in a class of its own as soil of this belt is highly conducive for this tree.
On the basis of use sal are categorized as schedule II species in Assam. Jiten Das, Forest Range Officer of Bamunigaon Range in lower Assam’s Kamrup district says that the royalty of per cubic meter sal, according to Government notification, is Rs 6936 if the girth of the log is over 1.20 meter. It is Rs 4604 if the girth is below 1.20 meter. In the black market per cubic meter sawn sal is priced at Rs 50,000 to 70,000.
Photo and Text - Kishore Talukdar
( Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )