Pradeep Pattanayak

As many as 10 forest department officials were detained by police following the death of a 59-year-old man in the custody at Badamba range office under Athagarh forest division in Cuttack on Monday.

Among the detainees are two assistant conservators of forests (ACFs)- Ghanashyam Muduli and Harekrushna Mallick- and Badamba ranger Subrat Behera. They have been detained at Athagarh police station.     

As per sources, Dhaneswar Behera, a resident of Khuntakata Satagochhia village, was picked up by the forest department officials on Sunday on charges of poaching a tusker and removing its tusks. 

A bullet-ridden carcass of a tusker with tusks missing was found in Hipinda Reserve forest under Badamba range on January 31. Suspecting his involvement in this case, the forest department had picked up Dhaneswar.  

However, he died under mysterious circumstances triggering tension in the area.  

While the family members of the deceased along with fellow villagers staged a roadblock at Barsingh square demanding justice, irate people set the Banpur beat house on fire. 

Speaking about the matter, PCCF Debidutta Biswal termed the incident as unfortunate and said a conservator rank officer has been sent to Athagarh who will conduct a probe into the incident. The probe will be impartial and action will be taken against whoever will be found guilty. 

He said he has discussed the matter with the Cuttack district Collector and requested the latter to provide assistance to the family of the deceased from the Red Cross fund. 

He also assured that if the third-degree allegation is proved, stringent action will be taken against the officer involved. He also termed the police action against the forest staff as right. 

As palpable tension prevailed in the area, three platoons of police force have been deployed to maintain the law and order situation. Meanwhile, Athagarh SP Bijay Bisi and Badamba Tehsildar Nilakantha Behera are on the spot and are trying to pacify the angry people.

It was then alleged that the carcass had been lying for two days in the forest before being spotted by the villagers. The villagers who went into the forest to collect firewood spotted the carcass and immediately informed the forest department. 

On being informed, forest department officials and Badamba veterinary officer reached the spot and carried out a post-mortem before burying the animal’s body following the procedures. 

It is worth mentioning, earlier four skeletons of elephants each from Narasinghapur and Badamba were recovered which speaks volumes of rampant poaching. 

(Reported by Nilakantha Dora, OTV)