Strike force to guard 'Treasure Island'? - The New Indian Express

Strike force to guard 'Treasure Island'?

Published: 01st October 2013 12:42 PM

Last Updated: 01st October 2013 12:54 PM

The Odisha Government has expressed its readiness to deploy two units of its special strike force to guard the splendid Barbara forests which has been under the watchful eyes of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for the last 19 years.

The Forest and Environment department,  sources said, has submitted before the Orissa High Court that it is ready to place two platoons of Odisha Special Striking Force (OSSF) to free the Central para military force of the assignment. Currently, one company of the CRPF is guarding the forest.

 In fact, last month, a team of the OSSF and Special Operation Group (SOG), the anti-Naxal outfit of the State, visited Barbara forests to take stock of the ground situation.

 Barbara-Dhuanali forest, considered “Treasure Island” of Khurda Forest Division for its rich flora and faunal diversities including Sal, Piasal, Arjun, Ficus, Ashoka and Kasi hogged the limelight in 1994 when  the then chief minister Biju Patnaik signed an agreement with the CRPF DG for its protection for three years. The agreement continued to be extended, but in 2002, the CRPF wanted to pull out given the immense pressure on it for assignments across the country, including in Maoist-affected areas. Following a PIL filed by Pallishree, the High Court imposed a stay on the pull-out.

 In fact, the decision to deploy OSSF comes even as the department struggles to form the Special Forest Protection Force (SFPF) as part of its long-term strategy for protection of the 232 sq km forest. A proposal to this effect was mooted in 2008 and the department wanted the SFPF comprising one range officer (RO), three deputy ROs, eight foresters, 40 forest guards and 50 contractual staff. An ACF ranked officer was proposed to head the force.

 However, the Finance department has put a question mark on its formation. In a recent letter to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) P N Padhi, Principal Secretary, Forest and Environment department R K Sharma mentioned that Finance department has “regretted” the proposal on the grounds that there is no justification for creating further posts of forester and forest guard when a large number of posts are lying vacant.

 Padhi has been asked to take a fresh look and inform if this can be managed with the existing sanctioned strength.

 The department, as part of its strategy, had also submitted a proposal under the annual plan of operation (APO) to source funds from CAMPA to build infrastructure for the forest protection force and it was approved. A special allotment of `91 lakh was made during 2012-13 which was utilised by the Khurda Forest Division for setting up two office quarters, a barrack, kitchen, toilets, two jeeps and 20 bikes.

 “Barbara forest is significant to the ecology of the landscape and we are creating the necessary infrastructure needed for its protection,” DFO Akshaya Patnaik said.

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