Op-Ed: Maoist Threat Looms Over Nature Retreats

Bhubaneswar: During my recent visit to Sundergarh district for election coverage I took the opportunity to have a look at the famous Khandadhar waterfall located close to Bonai town. Though I was brought up in Rourkela, which I still call my city, I had never seen this waterfall before. It was a mesmerising sight with water cascading down the verdant Khandadhar hill at such a steep angle that it really looked a foaming white sword. Since khanda is what a sword is called in Odia the fall seems to have derived its name from there.

The forest department has taken care to beautify the landscape at the foot of the hill which is frequented by picnickers. However, the driver advised me to leave the place before the dusk fell as Maoist rebels were active in the area. I felt a little disappointed that a place of such great natural beauty should be considered unsafe for people after sunset.

The warning of the driver reminded me of some of the past attacks carried out by the ultras in wildlife sanctuaries like Similipal and Sunabeda. While in Sunabeda bordering Chhatisgarh the rebels had triggered a blast in 2011 killing nine policemen from the neighbouring state they had targeted the Similipal national park in 2009 carrying out a series of attacks. Following the Maoist raids which destroyed some forest beat houses and other facilities the park had to be closed down for about a year.

More recently the rebels were spotted in the Satkosia wildlife sanctuary. In 2015 their movement was seen in areas like Chutkei, Krushnachakragarh, Chuanri, Tuluka and Pampasar within and around the sanctuary. A few years later security forces carried out an intensive combing operation in the Satkosia reserve forests following reports about the movement of a 200-strong group of rebels.

Speculation is rife that Maoists targeted the Satkosia sanctuary in a bid to expand their base in Angul district where they had hacked to death an alleged police informer in 2015. The rebels had left behind posters warning people against cooperating with police and the central security forces.

A year before that security forces had their first encounter with the rebels in Angul district with the two sides exchanging fire for over an hour in Patrapara forests within Chhendipada police limits close to Sambalpur and Deogarh border. Though there were no casualties in the gun battle it had triggered speculation about rebels trying to cut a corridor through Sambalpur, Deogarh, Angul and Boudh districts.

It is obvious that Maoist rebels have been targeting reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries like Similipal and Sunabeda in a bid to turn them into their safe hideouts. The thick forest cover gives them a sense of security while it hampers the movement of security forces. But this is a danger signal for the state which must take immediate steps to flush the rebels out of these places which the government has been trying to market to the outside world as great nature tourism destinations. No tourist will ever step into these sanctuaries unless the government ensures their complete safety and security.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)