OSSF takes charge of Asia’s largest sal, teak forest

Khurda: With the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) being relieved of its responsibility of guarding the Barbara forest in Khurda district, one of the largest Sal and Teak forests in Asia, the state Forest department has left no stone unturned to save this unique forest from the timber mafia.

To save the Barbara forest with an area of 870 sq km stretching up to the bordering areas of Nayagarh and Ganjam districts, former chief minister Biju Patnaik had signed an agreement with the CRPF in 1993. While the agreement continued to be extended, the CRPF wanted to pull out in 2002 given the immense pressure on it for assignments across the country, including in Maoist-affected areas. However, the Odisha High Court ordered a stay on its pullout following a PIL filed by two non-government organisations (NGOs).

In September, 2010, the State government informed the High Court that it was in process of raising a State Forest Protection Force that would replace the Central paramilitary force.

Finally, after 23 years, the CRPF withdrew its services on February 8 this year and in its place, the state government has deployed the Odisha Special Striking Force (OSSF).

“We have replaced the CRPF personnel on February 8 to take charge of the security of Barbara forest. Together with the forest staffs, we have successfully conducted three operations inside the forest. We are confident that we would be able to protect the flora and fauna of the forest,” OSSF jawan Bhaskar Chandra Pradhan told OTV.

According to Raj Kishore Swain, Assistant Conservator of Forest, in-charge of Balugan Forest Range, the Forest department has adequate arms and equipment to guard the Barbara forest. The Forest department has deployed 38 armed squads of OSSF and Forest guards at strategic points inside the forest.

“Our men are able to trek about 20 km by foot to reach the spot following information. Besides, the Forest department has also provided three vehicles for patrolling,” Swain added.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Khurda Forest Division, Akshaya Patnaik said with the help of CRPF personnel, several forest patches could be restored.

“After the withdrawal of CRPF personnel, the state government has deployed OSSF personnel with the arms and other equipment to guard the forest. We have started working with them and made them acquainted with various works. I hope the OSSF personnel will effectively take charge of the protection of the forest in the coming days,” Patnaik said.