RAIPUR: Fear of Maoists coupled with non-appointment of forest rangers gave a free run to timber mafia, which laid waste to a huge part of the Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve’s forest cover in Gariyaband district, 180 km east of Raipur.
The Chhattisgarh forest department was stunned to find rampant felling of trees in the forested terrain within the reserve spread over 900 square km and felling in eight forest zones in which 73 posts of forest guards are presently vacant. The department has now set up a camp along Chhattisgarh’s borders with Odisha to monitor the area which has seen maximum destruction and felling.
Chhattisgarh police have arrested over 40 people who illegally encroached on the Tiger Reserve land and had even cleared some portions to build settlements. They were all from Odisha. Meanwhile, the forest department suspended three personnel, including a range officer, for dereliction of duty and delay in combating illegal felling and mining within the reserve, besides shielding timber smugglers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority is to visit the reserve to assess the loss.