KENDRAPARA: Forest department may have been spending lakhs of rupees to regenerate mangrove plantation under Integrated Coastal Zone Management Programme (ICZMP) in Bhitarkanika National Park but on the ground, very little exist. That’s what an RTI report suggests.
The report reveals massive discrepancy in the plantation project as only one per cent of the target of 1,05,225 mangrove plants are now found in the seaside villages of Goja, Charigharia, Debendranarayanpur and Chittakhola.
In December last year, RTI activist Lambodhar Barik of Silapokhari village had sought details of plantation work carried out in these four villages under ICZMP by local NGO Action For Protection of Wild Animal (APOWA).
The RTI reply was received on February 27 which stated that Forest department had entrusted APOWA with Rs 10.72 lakh in 2015 to carry out mangrove plantation over 42 hectare of land in the four seaside villages to protect the area from the onslaught of cyclones. However, only one per cent of the total mangrove saplings planted by the NGO are alive today.
Locals allege that only a few mangrove saplings were planted by the NGO and Forest officers were hand in glove in the matter. The Forest department did not pay any heed to repeated complaints over corruption in the plantation project, they claimed.
The social worker of Kendrapara Biswanath Behera said it was suspected that most plantation drives taken up by the Forest department and NGOs in Bhitarkanika exist only on paper.
“Thanks to the RTI activist, it was finally proved that the mangrove plantation drive in the park is a big scam. It is high time the government ordered a probe into the corruption,” he said.
Contacted, director of APOWA Bijay Kumar Kabi said, “We planted 1,05,125 mangrove saplings in four villages after receiving Rs 10.72 lakh. It is duty of the Forest department to protect the trees. However, the officials did not take care of the mangrove plants due to which cattle and locals destroyed most of the saplings.”
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Bhitarkanika Bikash Ranjan Dash said, the department had awarded the mangrove plantation project to APOWA to plant and guard the trees.
“Only one per cent of the mangrove trees exist now due to slipshod attitude of the NGO. We are investigating into the case,” he added.
President of the district unit of Krusak Sabha Umesh Chandra Singh said the plantation scam under ICZMP is only the tip of the iceberg. Several other irregularities are also being carried out in the district.