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Environments' devastation: Follow on enforced by Fani
Efforts are on to heal the wound given by the severe cyclonic storm Fani. The damages are being assessed, estimated, memorandum written, relief works started in a tardy pace. Plans for the rehabilitation and reconstruction will be drawn. But, the ecological destruction that has been wrought by Fani through the coastal Odisha, is poised to unleash further disasters in the state. But, unfortunately, ecology is the last thing to come to the notice of the people, leave aside working on its restoration. In general, people bemoan the loss of trees in a massive scale, but barring a few stray cases, there is hardly any action to undo the ecological damages.

Fani has decimated the trees in the affected areas, mostly Puri and Khordha districts. Trees old and new either have lost their branches or have been completely uprooted. What ever trees are left behind are stripped off their leaves. And the loss of trees have stripped off Bhubaneswar, and Puri. Without the green cover of the trees, these cities have donned nudity, that takes out the element of suspense from many of the green campuses. How many trees have been damaged? It is like counting the number of crows in the empire of Akbar the great. While the human casualties could not be ascertained in the post Fani situation, who bothers to calculate the number of trees damaged?  The trees in the forests, trees in the village orchards and private land, trees alongside the avenues, the trees in the cities are all damaged. Such a massive loss of trees at one go, is going to have a severe impact on the micro-climate. It is not only the shades of threes during the summer months that will vanish, or the nests of the  birds that will vanish. But, the moderation of temperature by the shady trees will have an immediate impact not only on the soaring heat, but also a disproportionate increase in the atmospheric temperature and the temperature that we perceive.

It is not only the green cover that has been torn apart. It also is the shade during the scorching summer months that has become scarce. Many of the uprooted trees have also taken away the livelihood of the people. Chitrasen Sahu of village Rameswarpur under Krishnprasad block, where the land fall happened,  explains. "The Casurina forests here are our lifeline. For about 1000 families of the locality, casurina forests is the main source of livelihood, while fishing in the sea plays the second fiddle.  Fani has snatched away our means of survival. "Starting from financing cultivation, marriages in the family to the day to day expenses of the family every thing was being met from the casurina forests. Now we do not know how we will survive without the forest?" Tear drops glisten in the corner of Chitrasen's eyes. Others present there too concur silently. For these people it is not the destruction of their thatched houses, or the stored grains that matter, rather the forest

Suratha Rout says it will take not less than two decades to compensate for the loss of the trees in Fani affected areas. For this the government needs to take up massive plantation earnestly. But, Dhaneswar Routray of the nearby Dalkia village has other concerns. "Even two decades or massive plantation by the government can not compensate for this loss. From where the government will get the rare varieties of trees, some of whose names even we did not know. 200 to 400 year old Banyan trees have been uprooted. How can this loss be compensated. You can not just plant the banyan and peepal seeds to create the trees. It has to pass through the digestive system of the birds to be ready to sprout. Who will do that? Government?" his voice loaded with the sense of loss of the rare trees and  sarcasm. However the Forest and environment minister has already declared that 2.10 crore trees will be planted in the affected areas at a cost of 580 crores. Will that address the concerns of Dhaneswar?

However Dhaneswar's concerns are being taken care of by a joint effort of Bhubaneswar City Forest department and an NGO, by rehabilitating the fallen trees, and watering them. This being a volunteer driven effort has till date tried to revive more that 3000 trees.  "But this initiative was taken after almost a week of uprooting of the trees. It was quite late for the revival of the trees. The success rate should be very low. But, one does not know the strength of the trees to fight back" says Sunder Behera, a foresty graduate. Whatever may be the success rate of this effort, it certainly is much better than doing nothing for the survival of the fallen trees.

The deer mystery

It is not only the trees those have vanished. Balukhand sanctuary having a sizable population of the deer, has almost vanished from the map. This more than a decade old forest that was declared a sanctuary in the year 1984 is spread over 87 square kilometers. Roughly it has been estimated that more than 87 lakh trees have been either uprooted or severely damaged due to cyclone Fani. The cyclone has exposed the soft underbelly of the wild life protection arrangements by the state government. Now the forest department is at a loss in explaining about the wildlife population of this sanctuary. As per the earlier estimates Balukhand sanctuary had a wildlife population of 4000 that included deer, rabbit, hyena, jackals and reptiles. But, after the cyclone neither the deer are found in the Balukhand sanctuary, nor they have been located in the adjacent areas. And their dead bodies also have not been found. It is not short of a mystery as to what happened to the deer population. Saroj Mohanty, Balukhand range officer claims " Seeing the kind of devastations in Balukhnd reserve, it is quite natural to apprehend that the deer population has been decimated. The forest also is stinking all around. But the carcasses of the deer are no where around. And the source of the stink is the dead bodies of the cattle, dog etc. Most probably the wildlife have moved to the human habitations to take shelter. Very soon they will be back." One does not know how far he is true. Only one deer was spotted till one week after the cyclone. But the question is what is the number of the deer that we are looking for? There has not been a census of the deer and other wild population in the Balukhand sanctuary. This has put the forest department in a awkward situation. Neither the deer could be located in the forests or the adjacent habitations nor their dead bodies could be traced. It seems that the deer population has simply vanished. But, the forest department does not have a figure to mention as to how many deer did the vanishing trick. But, the villagers of the nearby habitations has a different story to tell. They say on the condition of anonymity that most of the deer those strayed into the villages have been killed. The forest department knows it, so also the villagers.  But, every one is maintaining a stoic silence about it. Fani is going to help the forest department in setting the record straight. Many casualties of accidents, negligence, poaching etc will be squared off in one go, say the critiques.

Drones into action

As the mystery surrounding the spotted deer continues, contradicting information is pouring in from different quarters. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) A. K. Mohapatra has admitted to the media that there is no trace of the deer other than the carcass of one spotted deer. He also has informed that the efforts to trace the deer in the Balukhand reserve has not yielded any results as it is very difficult to move in the forests after the cyclone damages.

But the minister of Forests and Environment Bijayashree Routray had said last Monday that several deer in the Balukhand Sanctuary were killed due to the cyclone as the trees fell on them.

On 14th May the PCCF wildlife declared that the drones will be used from 15th May onwards to trace the deer population of the sanctuary. To justify his stand Mr. Mohapatra has claimed 'deer generally come out of their hideouts during the night in search of food, but officials searched for the deer in the day time. We have recovered the carcass of only one deer. Hence we are hopeful that the deer population is still alive." While the PCCF has been working towards pressing the drones into service, the Divisional Forest Officer  Harshavardhan Udgata has claimed on 15th May that the trap camera fitted by the Forest department near Korark Range Office has recorded presence of 80 deer in 4 batches. However different news papers have reported different figures for the deer sighted by drone camera. While there is confusion galore with different authorities, many more concerns are lurking outside. It is twelve days past Fani, and still the department has not been able to locate the deer and other wild population of the sanctuary. Leave aside providing them any kind of succor. What initiatives the forest department has taken to provide the animals in the sanctuary with security? If the department is not able to say definitely about the where abouts of the animals, then how it is providing security to the animals in normal time? Well it is post Fani situation, but, for this the department should be putting in more efforts. Leave aside putting in extra effort, the department seems to be not concerned at all for the sanctuary and the animals. Because, no fire protection measures are being taken up for Balukhand sanctuary. This may spell disaster for not only the deer, but the sanctuary too.

Threat of forest fire looms large over the affected areas of Puri, Khordha, and other districts. The broken branches of trees and the fallen trees have dried up. With the temperature of the coastal Odisha soaring high, and predicted to touch 45degree celcius in the coming days, the chances of these dry, fallen branches catching fire or being ignited by the miscreants will pose a far greater threat to the forests of Odisha. Other than Balukhand, the Chandaka sanctuary in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar is also under threat.

The third sanctuary that is facing a threat is the pristine lake of Chilka, a part of which is a bird sanctuary. The ecosystem of Chilka is threatened now due to opening of four new mouths to the sea by Fani. The new mouths are bound to increase the salinity of the lake, bringing in the changes in floral and faunal abundance. The fishes and other aquatic species of Chilka are in demand only because it is neither sweat nor saline, providing it its uniqueness. And the opening up of the new mouth also is going to pose a threat to the bird sanctuary as change in the salinity will disperse the birds as their food too gets scattered depending upon the differential salinity.Fani, has posed a major ecological challenge to the state of Odisha and threatens the state with more disasters. It needs to be seen how sensitively the state government addresses this challenge.

Fani, has posed a major ecological challenge to the state of Odisha and threatens the state with more disasters. It needs to be seen how sensitively the state government addresses this challenge.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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