Odishatv Bureau

Jagatsinghpur: Once it was lush-green with luxuriant tree cover depicting an idyllic ambience. The thick forest with standing mangrove and casuarina cover was virtually a paradise for those evincing interest in eco-tourism. But that has become a thing of the past. The breathtaking greenery has disappeared from wetland spots in the periphery of Noliasahi, Gadakujang and Polang villages. The areas where South Korean steel major Posco had proposed to set up steel plant wear ravaged look as if a severe cyclone has dealt cataclysmic blow on the quiet seaside villages near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district.

As the International Day of Forest is being observed today across Odisha amid much fanfare, the villages that once treasured greenery have virtually turned into showpieces of authorities’ scant regard towards conservation of forest and environment. While the mega steel project stands scrapped for all practical purposes, the loss of greenery following unabated tree-felling in the villages earmarked for the venture continues to haunt everybody.

As many as 3 lakh trees were pulled down from the project area as part of land acquisition exercise undertaken four years back. While 2.25 lakh of the felled trees came under forest-classified category, 75,000 were fruit-bearing species.

The authorities might not have erred in pulling down trees as the project was accorded stage-2 of forest diversion clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). But the compensatory afforestation programme on the periphery of the mega project to make up the greenery loss has failed to take off four years after the land acquisition exercise.

The steel company had made a chest deposit of Rs 105 crore with the state government for the plantation activity. The Rajnagar Mangrove forest division and Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC) had jointly shouldered the responsibility of the project-side plantation work with state-run Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) extending logistic support towards it. However, things have come a cropper as hardly 200 acres of area have been taken up for plantation till now while the forest department ought to have raised trees in at least 1200 acre patch.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya, said “The department has raised trees in little over 100 acre of land in Nadiakhai village in Kujang block as part of compensatory afforestation programme. We have selected other areas in Mahanadi deltaic region to raise tree cover. The programme would be taken up shortly”.

“The company is gone. In the process it has left the local people to withstand ecological hazards. With tree cover gone, the areas are now lying thoroughly exposed to steady advancement of sea waters. Besides, the trees were acting as natural barrier against cyclonic storm. This destruction of this buffer has added to the vulnerability of people in the cyclone-prone pockets”, remarked a former panchayat samity member from Gadakujnag, Basudeb Behera.

Locals are alarmed as the landscape of the village has begun undergoing erosion in the wake of constant battering of tidal surge. The villages like Noliasahi and Polang are bearing the brunt of sea fury.

“Every month on the new moon and full moon days, tidal water easily enters into denuded pockets. This was not the case when the forest was intact. Though the place of human habitation at Nolisahi does not face immediate threat, people are apprehensive that the tidal waves would make inroads into the village areas in future”, narrated Nakul Sahu, former Sarpanch.

“The state government had made a grave error in judgment by pulling down the forest. It would have been prudent step had it taken on the forest clearance side by side with the afforestation and plantation activity”, Nirvaya Samantaray, a former Sarpanch of Dhinkia GP, pointed out.