Even as unabated felling of trees in different forest areas of undivided Koraput district has contributed to depletion of green cover, the practice of producing charcoal in deep forest by the tribals has worsened the situation.
According to sources, around 2000 tribal households in different forest ranges and remote areas of Koraput district are engaged in making charcoal.
They also cut down rare species of trees and herbs which have medicinal value.
There has been an increase in the demand for charcoal in urban markets due to fuel price hike. Charcoal serves as a cheaper substitute for LPG and kerosene, thus small hotel and tea stall owners prefer using charcoal. The tribals sell it at the rate of `300-`400 per 50 kgs.
Another reason why tribals resort to charcoal production is lack of employment opportunities.
They maintain that they earn the same amount from this source compared to what they get from jobs in urban areas. Gora Jani, a tribal, said, “We live in forest highland.
If we go to work in town, we have to start our journey before dawn and it is not possible for us to return home on the same day. Besides, we are not able to find regular work in the town and return empty handed.
With no other option, we make charcoal to sell it in the market for livelihood.” Another charcoal seller Mangu Jani who supplies charcoal to regular customers at intervals says, “Forest and its products are the only source of our livelihood.”
This apart, the tribals maintain that the forest belongs to them and hence they do not require anybody’s permission to use its products. Ironically, all these activities continue unabated with the knowledge of forest officials.
These activities have increased over the years since Forest Department personnel are allegedly hand in gloves with the mafias.
It has also been alleged that the lower grade staff of the department along
with the range officers are a party to these nefarious acts.
DFO BK Acharya said the staff is aware and alert about the issue but not able to contain illegal activities as there is a shortage of staff. “Tribals in remote areas sell charcoal in towns during odd hours in a hideous way,” he added.