Dilip Kumar

Baripada: Alleging lackadaisical approach by the Odisha government and forest department, the Bhanja Sena, a local outfit on Wednesday is observing nine-hour Mayurbhanj shutdown in protest against the government's failure in gaining control over the forest flames in Similipal biosphere reserve for over a fortnight.

The impact of the bandh has been felt across the district as Sena activists staged road blockade on national highways and state highways by burning tyres. Vehicular traffic has come to a grinding halt along the highways due to the blockade. Sena activists also took out a bike rally in Baripada town appealing to the public to come forward and make the bandh a success.

"The government has completely failed in controlling the blaze in Similipal only due to the lackadaisical approach of the forest department. We question the work efficiency of Yagyana Dutta Pati, the Deputy Director of Similipal Tiger Reserve who is unable to discharge his duties properly. All the officials from top to bottom, who are in charge of the safety of the biosphere reserve, should be dismissed from the services,' a Sena activist said.

"Almost half of the park has been reduced to ashes. If the government doesn’t take appropriate steps to control the blaze, our agitation will be intensified further," he added.

The protesters started picketing in the Baripada town and other parts of the district. Commercial establishments, government offices and schools and colleges have remained shut. However, emergency services have been exempted from the bandh. The shutdown which began at 6 am in the morning will continue till 3 pm.

Meanwhile, Opposition Congress party in the State has extended its support to the bandh. Accusing the government of misleading people by claiming that the forest fire is under control, Congress spokesperson Sudarshan Das said that NASA pictures show that 30 per cent of the fire is still active.

"Environmentalists, intellectuals have expressed serious concerns over the wildfire in Similipal. They opined that the measures taken by the government to douse the flames are not sufficient. The Congress party under the leadership of Niranjan Patnaik supported the bandh observed by Bhanja Sena," Das said.

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