Koksara: Sahajkhol reserve forest in Kalahandi district has turned into a safe haven for the maize mafias, a report said.
The mafias have reportedly encroached upon 12,989 hectares of forest land under Dharmagarh forest range in Kalahandi southern forest division and are carrying out illegal maize cultivation.
The mafia is felling precious plants and trees on thousands of hectares of forest land and carrying out maze cultivation.
This has led to massive loss of green cover in the reserve forest land even as observers suspected the involvement of forest officials in this farming.
As a result of this, the Sahajkhol reserve forest is on its way to extinction. It is apprehended that the day is not far when the reserve forest will turn into a barren land. Illegal cultivation is reportedly going on in the forest for 10 years.
Senior officials of the forest department are aware of the development, but are yet to launch a crackdown to stop the illegal activities.
Every year, reports on this illegal cultivation have come out in various media but the forest department has done precious little in this regard.
It is an irony that while the forest department spends crores of rupees on plantations with an aim to increase the green cover, a reserve forest is getting denuded for illegal cultivation of maize.
The mafia comprising Bihari and Bengali settlers as well as private money lenders of Nabarangpur and Umerkote are engaging gullible tribals in the cultivation and reaping a bounty by transporting the harvest outside the state.
They have settled down along with the tribals in the forest and carry out the cultivation. Recently, they were learnt to have roped in local villagers in this cultivation.
The mafia provides the tribals with seeds and fertilisers at the start of the season. Post harvest, they deduct the expenses and transport all the maize stocks outside the state.
However, what the tribals received in exchange for their labour is only peanuts with which they barely manage their families.
However, being vulnerable they do not have the courage to demand their share from the cultivation as they fear the mafia could harm them.
Reports said the maize cultivation is carried out in forest lands of Kandagarh, Gaibandha, Tirliama, Chhakapada, Kuturu, Lekama, Andhijharan, Kadomali, Sargipani and Birimuhan under Amapanai forest section and in Kanakpur, Rainguda and Khaligada under Behera forest section.
Maze farming is also done at Badakachharpada, Dhoben Chanchara and Gotomunda areas in the reserve forest near the Behera dam.
When contacted, Anil Kumar Ray, assistant conservator of forests of Kalahandi south forest division admitted to the development stating that people are being sensitised on the issue.
He, however, assured of departmental action if the reports on illegal maize cultivation in any area of the reserve forest are brought to his notice.