KENDRAPARA: Four acres of mangrove forest were destroyed on Sunday after some unscrupulous honey collectors started a fire to collect honey in Barunei forest within Bhitarkanika National Park of the district. Forest officials managed to douse the fire. Forest Range Officer of Bhitarkanika Amareshnath Pradhan said, “Those having stakes in honey collection often indulge in setting forest on fire. We found matchboxes from the forest and suspect involvement of some locals.
The department is usually on high alert in April and May as the weather starts to get hot and the jungles get very dry. It is illegal to collect honey from the mangrove forest within the park as it was banned by the department. But some unscrupulous traders and locals use smoke and fire to collect honey from the beehives.”“Local forest dwellers collect honey from the honeycombs using fire. Large number of bees die in the process every year and consequently, honey wealth of the forest is diminishing. The forest officials should provide training to the villagers about honey extraction though scientific method,” said Hemant Rout, an environmentalist and president of Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society (MTMCS), Kendrapara.
However, the locals criticised the Forest officials for not allowing them to collect honey from mangrove forest. Bhitarkanika mangrove forest is a maze of rivers, creeks and islands. Honey and wax production is a major seasonal activity of bees in forest areas. Around 5000 locals earn their livelihood by gathering honey and bee-wax in the season from April to June. They are locally called as ‘Mahudharali’ (honey collector).
“We used to eke out our living by collecting honey. But the Forest officials are not allowing us to collect honey for the last seven years. Sometimes, we grease the palms of the officials to collect honey from Bhitarkanika,” said Nrusingh Das, a honey collector of Dangamala village within the park.
“In Sundarban National Park of West Bengal, locals are allowed to collect honey from the mangrove forest. But in Bhitarkanika, it has been banned. As per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act-2006, forest dwellers have right to collect honey,” said Umesh Chandra Singh, president of district Krushaka Sabha.