Villagers up in arms against move to cut down trees

Satyasundar Barik
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Forest cover is essential to protect our homes from onslaught of huge waves, they say

Worried lot: Women standing guard at trees outside their village, Daluakandi under Astaranga block in Puri district.
Worried lot: Women standing guard at trees outside their village, Daluakandi under Astaranga block in Puri district.

Inhabitants of Daluakandi, a coastal village in Puri district, who have nurtured a forest standing as a wall between their habitation and the rampaging sea, are up in arms against the forest department's decision to cut down the trees.

"If they decimate the forest, nurtured and protected by the villagers especially women, the Bay of Bengal will gobble up our homes. We won't allow it to happen,” 60-year-old Raji Biswal said.

She said the casuarina forest on a small patch of land had given rise to a sand dune which separated the village and the sea insulating it against saline ingression and tropical storms. If it is removed, then all the 300 residents will be exposed to the onslaught of the huge waves. Daluakandi is village seven km from Astaranga and is surrounded by sea from onside and creeks from other side.

In a bid to register their protest against the forest department move, a group of desperate women on Tuesday reached the State capital and took up the matter with Forest and Environment Secretary Aurobindo Behera and urged him to desist his department from pushing them to the "throes of disaster".

The small forest of casuarinas would have been destroyed, had the women of Daluakandi not come forward to protect it. “During past 30 years, attempts were made to create forests thrice. But it was never successful till women came into picture in 2007,” said Bhabani Parida, another woman in the group.

“For the past few days, the Forest Department has been marking trees for felling purposes. Trees have been cut down in nearby villages such as Gundalaba, Srimantpur, Aisinia and Anakana. Though trees in our forest have been marked, we have rubbed those out,” she said.

Sisirkant Nayak, a villager volunteer, who accompanied the group of women said if saline-laced sand started getting deposited on agriculture field, the land would become baren.“Villagers, most of them are marginal farmers, will be deprived of precious yield from the field. We don't have any problem in scientific clearing of forest, but the department must raise new and similar dense forest before making any move to destroy the present one,” Mr. Nayak said. Women alleged the Forest Department personnel were threatening them to arrest if anybody came in way of felling trees. Showing strong determination to face any adversaries for protecting the forest, villagers in a recently convened ‘palli sabha' resolved that the forest was essential for their survival and they would not let anybody cut down trees. Attempts to contact the Divisional Forest Officer, Puri for getting his version proved futile.



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