Budharaja forest cover vanishing

The only patch of green canopy in the heart of Sambalpur town _ Budharaja Reserve Forest _ is fast shrinking. After the Ramgarh slum-dwellers in the reserve forest, it is now the turn of a hotelier, who is stealthily encroaching on forest land. Once spread over 133 acres, the reserve forest has shrunk to about 75 acres now.

Though the Budharaja Vana Surakhya Samiti (BVSS) has been raising the issue of encroachment, it has failed to move the Forest Department. Even the former Conservator of Forest, Rajeev Kumar, was roped in by ‘Jaaga Sambalpur’ to visit the site for assessment after he denied any encroachment of the forest. However,? after visiting the site he admitted that the slum-dwellers had encroached upon the BRF and promised to evict them. The assurance remains unfulfiled even today with Kumar getting promoted and forgetting his promise.

With the slum still in its place, now a hotelier is allegedly encroaching upon the BRF. After purchasing the building which once housed the Jyoti Hospital, the hotelier on the plea of renovation has demolished the boundary behind the plot and is extending it deep inside the reserve forest, sources alleged.

The Forest Department has preferred to close its eyes to the land grabbing, evoking protests from Greens and BVSS members. The department’s ignorance in this regard has left the green activists and BVSS wondering.

The encroachment of the BRF began in late 70s when a few huts came up on the slope of the reserve forest. Gradually the slum grew with about 7.17 acres of land delineated from the forest for a graveyard for the Oriya Baptist Christian community.

This apart, 1.25 acres of land has been delineated for Lord Shiva temple, popularly known as Budharaja Temple, and another 2.5 acres for a concrete road to the hilltop.

Moreover, a report submitted by field staff of the Forest Department speaks about encroachment by DIET, office of the Circle Inspector of Schools, office of Ground Water Testing Authority besides the slum and encroachment by the graveyard.

Divisional Forest Officer (South Sambalpur) Santosh Banchor feigned ignorance about any such encroachment and construction in the reserve forest. “I can comment on the issue only after visiting the spot,” he added.

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