Ramakanta Biswas

Kendrapara: The delineation of boundary of Bhitarkanika in Kendrapara district has sparked antipathy among the residents of the villages that remained under the jurisdiction of the wildlife sanctuary.

Locals have alleged that several villages that are far away from the sanctuary continued to remain under its jurisdiction due to the faulty demarcation. As the villages still remain under the sanctuary zone, forest laws applicable in the jurisdiction continue to hinder the development works, they claimed.

As per sources, in the recent demarcation of boundary carried out after nearly four decades, only 52 revenue villages of Rajnagar block were excluded from sanctuary while about 226 villages of 25 panchayats of the block still remained under the boundary of the sanctuary.

The residents have questioned the criteria under which the State government could only exclude 52 villages from the sanctuary jurisdiction.

“More than 400 villages remained under the zone of the sanctuary. Barring 10 to 15 villages, other villages are not even near the forest area. Even villages situated 50 km away from the sanctuary were taken under its jurisdiction. It is very unfortunate as it will only hamper the development works in the region,” said Jagannath Das, a resident of Rajnagar block.

According to sources, sanctuary act and eco-sensitive zone rules will be strictly implemented in those villages which remained under the boundary of the sanctuary. If any development or industrial work is proposed in such villages, it will require the permission of the forest department.

Former sarpanch of Khandianta, Kalakar Pradhan said, “The government must exclude our villages because the demarcation prevents us from various development works as the control fall under the rules of the forest department. If the decision is not revoked, residents of Pattamundai will launch a massive protest in the coming days.”

Back in April 22, 1975, the State government had declared about 672 square km of Bhitarkanika as wildlife sanctuary. As there was no demarcation of the boundary, the entire province was declared as sanctuary. Now, the fresh demarcation has been conducted after 45 years.

Environmentalist Hemant Rout said, “The government should demarcate only the area which is crucial to maintain the safety of the ecosystem in the sanctuary and the villages of Rajnagar, Pattamundai and Kanika should be excluded from jurisdiction.”

The forest department assured that it will propose the State government to carry out fresh demarcation of the boundary.

“The State government in February 2020 issued a notification in which 52 revenue villages have been excluded and eight forest blocks of Mahakalpada included in the sanctuary. No new revenue villages have been added,” said Bikash Ranjan Das, Rajnagar divisional forest officer.

“Some villages in Rajnagar and Rajkanika were supposed to be excluded but could not be done. If any such proposal is made in the future, everything will be done as per procedure,” he added.