KENDRAPARA: With the district administration and Forest officials turning a blind eye, the invaluable mangrove forest cover in the eco-sensitive Bhitarkanika National Park has fallen prey to rampant encroachment and illegal constructions.
The situation has turned grim in Talchua and Ramnagar areas where large parts of mangrove forest have been cleared and houses and shops constructed on them. The water channel has also been blocked by the constructions.
Locals alleged such gross illegalities are being furthered in connivance with unscrupulous Forest and Revenue staff and urged demolition of all structures along with urgent steps to revive the precious mangrove cover in the area. Bhabani Mandal, a retired school teacher of Ramanagar, said as many as 30 persons have built a market complex and houses by clearing the mangroves under Mahakalapada Forest Range.
Similarly, Mahadev Behera of Talachua alleged that though the locals have urged the Forest officials to clear the illegal structures from Bhitarkanika which are blocking the water channels, no action has been taken against the encroachers.
Environmentalist Sudhanshu Parida said the illegal structures have come up in violation of the Coastal Regulated Zone (CRZ) Act. The locals and traditional fishermen first underestimated the nature of destruction. But now, they have realised the threat and are up in arms against the encroachers to save the coastal ecology.
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Bhitarkanika National Park Bikash Ranjan Dash said officials are gathering details about the forest land under unlawful occupation. Admitting that the mangrove forest has been encroached upon by some persons at Talachua and Ramanagar, he said, “We will soon demolish all the illegal structures and take legal action against the encroachers.”
Mangrove forests are a formidable natural barrier against cyclones and storms surges and play an important part in stabilising the shoreline. They also serve as the nesting and breeding ground of various terrestrial, arboreal, benthic and aquatic organisms. It contributes immensely to the growth of estuarine fishery resources besides providing timber, firewood, honey and medicines to locals.