Forest dept plans e-auction of timber from October

Forest dept plans e-auction of timber from October

Merchants say it's a long wait, cite huge backlog in depots

Forest dept plans e-auction of timber from October

The forest department is improvising on its newly launched online timber sale mechanism, amid resistance from various quarters.

There will be live e-auction from October. Karnataka is the fourth state going online after Kerala, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. However, a few people in the department and members of the Federation of Karnataka Timber Merchants and Saw Millers Association (KFTMSA) are opposing the online sales, saying the backlog of unsold timber was very high in Karnataka and waiting till October would compound the problem.

The first online sale was conducted in Dandeli depot on September 16, 2016. In February 2017, a government order was issued, making online sale mandatory. The move came after T M Vijaybhaskar, former additional chief secretary, forest and environment, found lakhs of rupees were unaccounted for by staffers at the Virajpet and Joida depots.

“A timeframe will be set for live bidding. The number of attempts will be limited to 20 and the difference in amount will also be limited. The bidders will be able to see the price quoted by others online,” a senior forest official said. “Keonics is updating the e-timber software and also helping us with Wi-Fi in rural areas. Of the 47 depots in Karnataka, this system will be limited to 40.” He said people were opposing the new system because of liquidity crunch after demonetisation. Payments for online sales are through RTGS.

B K Dikshit, additional principal chief conservator of forests, Forest Resource Management, said in 2015, the department sold 1.66 lakh cubic metres of wood (teak, rose, fir and others), this figure rose to 3.13 lakh cubic metres in 2016 and in 2017 (till February), 52,577 cubic metres were sold. The revenue generated in 2015 was Rs 131.33 crore, which increased to Rs 176 crore in 2016.

But KFTMSA members say the department should first clear the old stock before introducing anything new. “The new mechanism is welcome, but there is no point in waiting till October. The delay will add to the pile-up,” said K M Somashekhar, bidder and KFTMSA member. The department is also making a provision, where citizens wanting to purchase wood can approach the depots directly. “People can visit any depot and make purchases. But the buyer has to ensure he is not associated with any bidder,” the officials said.