PARADIP: Frequent natural calamities and rapid industrialisation have led to the depletion of forest cover, which act as natural barriers against storms and cyclones, in the coastal districts of Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara.
The industrialisation has led to the depletion of mangrove and casuarina forests in Paradip, Kujang and Erasama blocks of Jagatsinghpur district and others of Kendrapara. Besides, operations by prawn mafia who are backed by local politicians too have contributed to rampant deforestation in these areas. In 2013, over 5,000 fruit-bearing trees such as coconut, mango, jackfruit, cashew and 2,800 betel vines, which provided protection from soil erosion and prevented the entry of saline water to villages in Erasama block, were chopped off for Posco steel project. In 2018, a few environmentalists had submitted a memorandum to the forest range officer of Kujang stating that Paradip Port Trust (PPT) had chopped off more than 50,000 mangrove trees for its expansion project in gross violation Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rule.
Jagatsinghpur district has a small patch of mangrove forest spread over 7 sq km while Kendrapara has 183 sq km of mangrove forest. However, owing to absence of conservation efforts, the two districts have lost considerable forest cover posing a threat to eco-system. In February 2011, in order to build climate resilient communities and reduce extreme poverty in the two districts, the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC) had implemented ‘Paribartan’ project. The project was designed to increase mangrove cover in the area to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
In 2013, the villagers of Naupal of Kusupur panchayat in Jagatsinghpur district had planted 4,500 mangrove saplings which were damaged by cyclone Phailin. The saplings that survived the storm did not grow as per expectations. The varieties planted were Sinduka and Bani.
Former sarpanch of Kusupur panchayat Prasant Kumar Hati said nothing has been done for plantation of mangrove and other trees despite rapid deforestation. In the local Baruna forest, forest guards have allegedly axed hundreds of casuarinas and sold it to local timber mafia. Hati said the guards chopped off the trees on the pretext of damage due to the cyclone.
Chief of Noliashai village Jevanlal Behera said the residents of nine villages are living in penury owing to absence of afforestation. “After depletion of forest cover due to the Posco steel project, saline water from the Bay of Bengal has been directly entering these villages every year during high tide,” he said.
Forest Range Officer, Kujang Pratap Chandra Mohanty said no mangrove plantation programmes have been initiated in Jagatsinghpur district and no funds allocated for the purpose so far. He said during cyclone Fani, only casuarinas were damaged. However, mangrove forests were spared by the storm.