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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021
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Flames Between Two Fires

Acres and acres of Similipal, Asia’s second largest biosphere reserve, have burned to a cinder. And no one knew….

Flames Between Two Fires
Flames Between Two Fires
outlookindia.com
2021-03-12T14:07:07+05:30

It was a tweet that drew the world’s attention to a raging fire in Similipal National Park and Tiger Reserve. On March 1, Akshita M. Bhanjdeo, scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mayurbhanj in Odisha, tweeted that the national media had failed to cover the “devastating” fire that had been raging for over a week, engulfing vast swathes of the second largest biosphere reserve in Asia. Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan used the tweet to call for urgent action from environment minister Prakash Javadekar and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik. After Naveen called a high-level meeting of officials, the media was told that the fire was “under control”. But evidence from the ground shows the fire spreading every day, burning thousands of trees and plants, including rare orchids, and animals. With satellite imagery and daily updates by the Forest Survey of India making it impossible to hide the truth, the state government constituted a nine-member task force headed by a former principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) on March 8 . “Unless it rains, it won’t be possible to douse the wild fire, now spreading into the core area, anytime soon,” says environmentalist Bhanumitra Acharya, who has worked in Similipal for 28 years. “Restrictions imposed in the no-go core area have to be temporarily lifted to enable drones and helicopters to be pressed into service.”

Acting PCCF (Wildlife) Sashi Paul, who visited Similipal last week, denies that the forest department woke up only after Bhanjdeo’s tweet. “There are fires in Similipal every year, primarily due to burning of leaves by adivasis to collect mahua. We had made all the preparations, deployed required human ­resource and conducted drills to res­pond to fires. In fact, the first fire was rep­orted as early as February 7,” he...

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