Sambalpur: The administration’s plan to chop off 1,32,970 trees in Sambalpur and neighbouring Jharsuguda for establishment of Talabira coal mines will affect the livelihood of thousands in both the districts, a report said.
The project is being steered by Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India Ltd for Talabira- 1 and Talabira-2 coal mines. The company has also established a thermal power project at an expenditure of Rs 17,000 crore which will produce 3,200 megawatt of electricity.
The proposed mines will be spread over 192.626 hectares of forest land under Sambalpur forest division and 845.561 hectares of forest land in Jharsuguda district. The mines area also includes 385.379 hectares of revenue and 460.182 hectares of other land in Jharsuguda district.
It is alleged that the tree felling is done without the approval of local people in the gram sabha.
Locals alleged that the district administrations and company officials are hand-in-glove in felling of trees. The district administrations of Sambalpur and Jharsuguda had announced that the issue had been resolved.
However, it is far from over as they went ahead with tree felling by inviting only 60 people of Khinda panchayat to a tripartite meeting barring the residents of Malda and Patrapali panchayats in Jharsuguda district. Residents suspect political intervention has led to the state of affairs.
Over the last two years, stiff resistance from the villagers and the project oustees didn’t allow the administration to go for tree felling. However, the felling of trees started December 6 amid heavy police deployment to allegedly silence the residents who oppose the act.
Meanwhile, around 40,000 trees like sal, mango, jackfruit, teak, jamun, neem and mohua have been chopped off since December 6.
The oustees, members of forest protection committee and various outfits have lodged complaints against the tree felling with the district administrations of Sambalpur and Jharsuguda, but to no avail.
The chopped trees were raised by the forest department with the involvement of villagers. The department had spent over Rs 76 lakh to raise the forests. The department had formed forest protection committees in the villages to guard and nurse the trees.
The forest department has prepared a report on the number of trees to be cut down. However, the villagers claim that the number of trees to be cut down is double of what is stated in the report.
The tree felling is likely to hit the livelihood over 20,000 people in three panchayats of Sambalpur and Jharsuguda district who are dependent on forests.
The panchayats are Khinda in Sambalpur and Malda and Patrapali in Jharsuguda. Over 4,500 people who earn their living by selling minor forest produce will be badly affected.
A project oustee, Hemant Rout, of Khinda panchayat alleged that the company officials are forcibly cutting sown the trees under police protection.
Sources said the company will give permanent employment to 427 persons on the basis of their educational qualifications while the consultancy agencies will employ 10,000 people leaving the rest of the displaced people jobless.
Environmentalists said that the tree felling is done in an arbitrary manner in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act.