KENDRAPARA:Illegal shrimp farming in the mangrove forest in Bhitarkanika National Park is gradually breaking down the last ecological barrier against tidal waves and cyclonic storms.
In past few weeks, hundreds of mangrove trees spread over 25 acres of land in Pravati, Rangani and Talachua villages inside the national park were cut down by the prawn mafia. Bhitarkanika is the second largest mangrove forest of India after Sundarbans in the neighbouring West Bengal.
The mangrove trees, which act as a natural barrier against cyclones and storms, protected a large populace from the 1999 Super Cyclone, said Prabir Mandal, a farmer of Pravati village.
“We have the biggest uninterrupted stretch of mangrove forest in our village and now prawn mafia in connivance with the forest officials are felling the mangrove trees exposing us to natural disasters,” said Amar Kumar Manna (56) of Pravati village. Besides, the saline water ingression from the sea and the tidal waves will affect cultivation in the villages, he added.
The denudation of the mangrove forest cover is also set to affect wildlife which depends on it for food and destroy the livelihood of thousands of villagers.
The destruction of forest cover comes at a time when the Government is taking measures to protect the seaside villages from the onslaught of cyclone, storm and tsunami. Last year, the State Government had drawn up an estimated budget of Rs 17,000 crore to implement Odisha Climate Change Action Plan (OCCAP) over a period of five years.
Around 121 activities under 11 sectors in the OCCAP including regeneration of mangrove forest were included in it. Under the plan, mangrove and other trees were to be planted in over 20,000 hectares in the coastal districts to save the seaside villages from the onslaught of natural disaster.
As part of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) programme, the Forest Department granted Rs 60 lakh to an NGO to raise mangrove plants. But, the NGO misappropriated the fund and fled, alleged Hemanta Jena, an environmentalist.
Meanwhile, Divisional Forest Officer of Bhitarkanika National Park Bimal Prasanna Acharya said, “The forest ranger of Bhitarkanika has been asked to submit a report on the denudation of mangrove forest. Legal action will be initiated against the persons who cut down mangrove trees and the NGO for misappropriation of funds.”