Dilip Kumar

New Delhi: A Central empowered committee will visit Odisha tomorrow to assess the wildfire situation and provide technical assistance to State officials in containing the blaze in Similipal biosphere reserve and other forests.

Union Forest and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has directed the panel comprising experts from the Forest Research Institute, forest conservationists and fire experts to visit the State and share expertise in containing the fires.

In a tweet, Javadekar conveyed his decision in sending the team after a delegation of BJP MPs from Odisha led by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan met him in Delhi this morning.

“The Ministry is sending a committee of experts to Odisha to give technical advise &help out state forest dept. in effective management of forest fire incidents in the region. The experts will work in coordination with the deployed team for early and effective dousing of fire,” read the Minister’s tweet.

Bargarh MP Suresh Pujari, who was a part of the delegation, said "We made a demand to the Minister to send a central committee comprising experts from the Forest Research Institute and fire experts. The Minister has directed the panel to visit Odisha tomorrow and hold discussions with State officials on the measures to contain fires in Similipal and other forests in the State.”

Alleging conspiracy behind the wildfire in Similipal, Pujari said that the State government is still to take central assistance even though wildfire has been reported from 650 places across the State.

"We can smell a well-planned conspiracy behind the forest fires as it will benefit timber smugglers and poachers," he added.

The Bargarh MP further pointed out that the Centre had given crores of rupees to the State for National Bamboo Mission and Rs 6000 crore under CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management &Planning Authority) for afforestation programme in Odisha. “But, where are the new forests,” he asked.

Sensing embezzlement of Central funds, the BJP delegation has demanded an audit of the funds and physical verification of the new forests created by the Odisha government.

Mayurbhanj MP Biseswar Tudu, who was a part of the delegation said " I have taken up the matter before the forest officials many times. But, they have done precious little to prevent forest fire incidents and other issues. There is a conspiracy behind the forest fire which should be investigated."

Earlier in a letter the MPs urged the Minister 'to assess the damage to forest land, flora and fauna as well as communities dependent on forests for their livelihood and take suitable remedial and reparative actions in this regard.'