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Odisha has lost 9 sq km mangroves to prawn mafia, says green activist

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau

Bhubaneswar, July 11:

Odisha has lost 9 sq.kms of mangroves during the two year period of 2011 and 2012 as per the forest survey assessment conducted by Forest Survey of India in 2013.

Pointing this out, the secretaryof the Wildlife society of Odisha ( WSO)  Dr Biswajit Mohanty, in a press release issued today,  said the forest lovers are dismayed to see this steep decline of mangrove forests in the state and suspected an active prawn mafia backed by powerful local politicians to be behind the denudation of mangroves for conversion into illegal shrimp farms.Mangrove

In 2011 the survey had found that there was an addition of 1 sq.km of mangroves during the period 2009 and 2010, but this growth trend has been reversed now, Dr Mohanty said.

He also pointed out the so-called growth of forest cover as indicated by the latest economic survey owes a lot to tribal farmers shunning ‘podu’ or the slash and burn agriculture on hill slopes and has little to do with any proactive effort by the state government agencies.

Blaming the lack of any effective initiative for the situation, Dr Mohanty said. “though forest laws have been made more stringent in 2003 with major amendments, the department is unable to check forest loss due to rampant corruption among the field staff who do not carry out raids or seizures.”

The following is the text of his press release:

“Though the state contains a small patch of mangroves of 213 sq.kms, it is very rich ecologically being the most bio diverse in the entire country . The state has the distinction of being second highest mangrove diversity habitat in the world as compared to that of Papua New Guinea. Bhittarkanika has 62 species of mangroves and associates which are not seen in mangrove forests of other states.

“Bhitarkanika National Park in Kendrapara district has the largest patch with 183 sq.kms of mangroves. Bhadrak District has 21 sq.kms followed by Jagatsinghpur (7 sq. kms.) and Balasore district (2 sq.kms.). Despite announcements by the state government that a massive mangrove plantation would be taken up post the Super cyclone in 1999, the state has miserably failed to conserve existing mangrove forests despite huge funding support from the ICZM World bank funded project and Central Govt. cyclone restoration funds.

Dr Biswajit Mohanty
Dr Biswajit Mohanty

“The survey also indicates severe breakdown of protection measures of the forest department. Odisha has the fourth largest forest cover among states of the country with 50,347 sq.kms. The state has a very dense forest cover of 7,042 sq. kms , moderate dense forest cover of 21,298 sq. kms and open forest 22, 007 sq. kms as per the latest assessment.

“Compared to the 2011 FSI assessment the state has added a net area of 1,444 sq. kms of forest which is an increase of 0.93% of forest cover during the last two years. It has added 1,530 sq. kms of open forests, while losing 18 sq. kms of dense forest cover and 68 sq.kms of moderate dense forest cover.

“Open forests are mostly plantations or regenerating old forest growth areas which had been denuded. Due to large scale diversion of forest land for mining in Keonjhar and Sundargarh, the forest department has taken up plantations to compensate for such loss .

“However, it is far more important to protect existing natural forests which have rich ecological values, provide livelihood to tribals and are a treasure house of biodiversity. Due to failure of protection efforts both for mangroves and terrestrial forests as the state has lost very dense forest cover of 18 sq.kms and moderately dense forest cover of 68 sq.kms over the last two years from existing natural forests which are home to myriad wildlife species including elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, etc.

“The addition of 1,530 sq.kms of open forest has been explained by Forest Survey of India as due to efforts of Vana Surakshya (VSS) groups, conservation efforts of by state forest department and availability of better satellite data.

“In our opinion, due to easy availability of cheap rice in the tribal districts of the state coupled with MNREGA work programs, the erstwhile tribal farmers have abandoned old podu or shifting cultivation areas in many tribal districts (Koraput,Rayagada, Malkangiri, Nowrangpur, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Boudh, Kandhmal, Gajapati) which has resulted in the increase in open forests of 1,530 sq. kms . Most of these farm fields located on hill slopes had significant root stock of sal and other trees which regenerate easily if left untouched for a couple of years.

“The very dense forests and moderately dense forests mostly in Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Kandhmal are directly under the control of the forest department which has miserably failed to protect them despite having huge budgets under the CAMPA scheme, JBIC and Plan funds worth nearly Rs. 500 crores a year.

“Timber smugglers are active throughout the state and have been regularly decimating the dense forests of Satkosia, Keonjhar, Balliguda, Rayagada, Athmalik,Boudh, Simlipal, Baisapalli, Pallahara, Bonai, Dhenkanal areas. Sized illicit timber is regularly smuggled into the major urban centres of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack Angul, Sambalpur, Rourkela, Berhampur, Balasore , Bhadrak and Jharsuguda.”