SAMBALPUR: THE forest officials have closed their eyes to the encroachment in Budharaja Reserve Forest located in the heart of Sambalpur city. Though the Forest department had conducted a survey to identify the encroachers in the forest in April 2014, it failed to initiate any further step to evict them.
The survey revealed that there were 252 houses constructed inside the forest. About 700 among the encroachers had been enrolled in the electoral rolls while a majority of 252 households had availed power and water supply facilities without Forest department clearance.
Even the department had planned to move the WESCO and PHED seeking explanation on their authority in providing connections inside the reserve forest. But the Forest department remained mum after the entire exercise.
A few thatched houses to begin with, Ramgarh slum that has cropped up over Budharaja Reserve Forest is fast expanding and the thatched houses have been converted into houses with asbestos and RCC roof. Deriving its name from Sholay’s Ramgarh, the slum has choked natural water channels of the hill posing danger to the ecosystem. Once spread over 133 acres, the forest has been reduced to about 75 acres. The encroachment began in late 70’s when a few huts cropped up on the slope of the reserve forest.
Already a tourist destination with the hilltop of Budharaja housing temple of Lord Shiva and motorable road to the top from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the city, the Public Works department is constructing a watch tower to attract more visitors.
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Sambalpur, Sanjeet Kumar said new encroachment has been completely stopped after construction of boundary wall around the reserve forest. Fresh encroachment in the reserve forest will not be allowed.
At present, there is no planning for eviction of old encroachment inside the forest. However, he will look into the complaint of conversion of thatched houses into houses with asbestos and RCC roof, he added.