• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Twenty-three encroachers from Odisha, among a total of 30, have cleared 70 hectares of jungle from buffer area of Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve | India News


RAIPUR: Twenty-three encroachers from Odisha, among a total of 30, have cleared 70 hectares of jungle from the buffer area of the Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, located in the Gariaband district of Chhattisgarh, over the past ten years. The Forest Department will remove these encroachers from the buffer area bordering Odisha on January 10, following the Chhattisgarh High Court‘s ruling in favor of the department.The court rejected the petition filed by the encroachers, who attempted to mislead the court by claiming they had resided in the area for over 25 years and were entitled to forest rights patta.
Among the 30 encroachers, 23 hailed from Odisha, two from Kondagaon, and five from Gariaband districts of Chhattisgarh. This incident occurred in the Tangran village of the Tiger Reserve. Varun Jain, the Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve Deputy Director, informed TOI that the encroachers were removed by the forest department, leading to the clearing of 70 hectares of valuable forest land.
Approximately 300 trees, valued at about Rs 50 lakh, were felled by the encroachers. These encroachers were misleading and lacked evidence or ownership documents for the claimed forest land. Upon scrutiny of the area through ISRO satellite imagery by the Forest Department, it was revealed that the region was once dense forest until 2012. Subsequently, individuals from outside the state provided shelter to these encroachers in the Chhattisgarh Tiger Reserve, stated the IFS officer.
Following this, the Forest Department initiated an investigation, discovering that the homes of these 23 encroachers in Odisha were merely 15 kilometers away. Additionally, two other encroachers had already submitted ownership documents in Dhamiri and Gariaband districts, respectively. Despite the Forest Department’s attempts to evict the encroachers from the region, they approached the High Court against the department’s stand. However, the High Court did not entertain the encroachers’ application and instead directed the Forest Department to take action.
After losing the case in the High Court, the encroachers approached the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Chhattisgarh government. Subsequently, the appellate authority upheld the evidence from ISRO imagery, dismissing the case on December 13, 2023. The Ministry directed the encroachers to vacate the area themselves and instructed forest officials to engage them in fruitful tree plantation and conservation activities in the local eco-sensitive zone, aiming to raise environmental consciousness among them, mentioned Jain.
In the last two months, the administration of the Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve distributed resource ownership documents, covering over 20,000 hectares, to 15 villages. Moreover, due to the presence of elephant herds in the reserve, no human-elephant conflict incidents have been reported in the last 11 months. An application named ‘Hathi Alert’ has been introduced to rural folks through SMS and WhatsApp for the last nine months, benefiting several villages in Chhattisgarh.
Forest clearances have been granted for various projects, including laying 132 KV power lines (Nagri-Indagarh), small pond excavations, and constructing small dams. Additionally, eco-tourism activities like kayaking, boat rides, cottages, jungle safaris, and trekking have commenced, contributing to local development.
The Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve administration appeals to wildlife enthusiasts and the general public to recognize the reserve area as a precious protected area, akin to Hasdeo Aranya. Efforts are ongoing to provide ecosystem services to villagers in nearby areas, such as watershed management during monsoons and providing firewood.
Efforts are underway to confine wildlife conservation, especially for endangered species like bears, leopards, and elephants, within the reserve area, preventing their encroachment into inhabited regions. Neglecting larger encroachers is causing administrative losses while encouraging smaller encroachers and woodcutters to continue their activities. These woodcutters sell wood in Odisha and Bengal, as discovered during a raid in Ghunchaguda and Sonpur in Odisha, stated Jain.
Two recent attempts to protect the forest from encroachers/wood smugglers resulted in violent attacks against the officials. Given the seriousness of the issue under Article 48A, the Forest Department will execute the operation to remove encroachments on January 10, 2024.
Jain mentioned that four similar incidents—Sornamal (189 hectares), Goharamal (159 hectares), Ghoragaon (15 hectares-Dhamiri, Nagri tehsil), and Icharadi (151 hectares)—were subjected to intervention by the Forest Department in April-May of the previous year.


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