Despite restriction on use of forestland for non-forest purposes, many temples and religious institutions have come up inside forests used by elephants for moving from one habitat to another.
“We have drawn attention of forest department on violation of forest laws by religious institutions. Many temples have sprung up in Dhenkanal forest during past few years,” said Biswajit Mohanty, renowned environmentalist.
‘No action taken’
In a letter addressed to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Mr. Mohanty pointed out: “No action has been taken to evict these encroachments from the forestland which have been illegally diverted without clearance under section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.”
“Forest land continues to be illegally used by the ashrams at Andhari Khola in Anantapur reserve forest and at Ganesh Khola in Aswakhola reserve forest in Dhenkanal district. These two sites are prime elephant habitats and elephants are now disturbed by religious ceremonies and influx of crowds,” he pointed out.
Besides, discarded food and other pollutants like polythene and waste materials adversely affect the local wildlife habitat, said the environmentalist.
Moreover, there was another site in Matharagadi Reserve Forests of Dhenkanal Forest Division by, an ashram locally known as Nirbana Khola had been set up. “The site is located about 500 metres from the National Highway linking Cuttack- Sambalpur. An approximate area of 1.5 to 2 acres of forest land has been encroached by cutting trees and levelling the land. Concrete building has been built on forest land,” Mr. Mohanty said. These religious institutions were clearly established in violation of forest laws, he charged.
It was also alleged that some people’s representatives including MP and MLA have contributed from their development fund for improvement of sites inside protected forest.