Tribals collude with Naxals

Extremists menace enters game sanctuaries

The Similipal wildlife sanctuary in Orissa’s tribal dominated Mayurbhanj district which houses the country’s fourth largest tiger reserve has become a new home to Maoist naxals operating in the eastern state. Considering parts of Similipal have contiguous borders with both the naxal infested bordering states of W Bengal and Jharkhand it is no surprise.

Completely destroyed

The development has already put a question mark over the very survival of the sanctuary which had earned a name for itself not only in the national level but in the international fora too. The UNESCO had recently included Similipal in its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) much to the happiness of the environmentalists in the state. According to the environmentalists, of late the picturesque wildlife sanctuary had become a paradise for poachers. And the arrival of the naxals is all set to damage its reputation further. “Similipal will be completely destroyed if both the Orissa government and Centre does not come forward with some concrete action plans to save the sanctuary which has huge potential”, said environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty who heads the non-governmental, Wildlife Society of Orissa.

The Maoists arrived in the sanctuary with a bang on the eve of the last Lok Sabha and state assembly elections as they unleashed a reign of terror inside the 3000 square kilometer reserve forests repeatedly attacking tourists visiting the sanctuary as well as forest department personnel. Some tourists were injured in the attacks and the ultras looted their belongings.

 The magnitude of the problem was such that the Similipal authorities had to close the national park for an indefinite period. The sanctuary has not yet started functioning normally with forest department personnel expressing their reluctance to go inside it fearing Naxalite attacks.

Environmentalists squarely blame the Orissa government for its casual attitude towards the safety and security of the sanctuary which helped the red rebels to force their entry the reserve forests considered by many as a unique “treasure of nature”. Apart from the Royal Bengal Tigers and other wildlife like elephants, leopards, deer and Indian bisons, Similipal is home to about 230 species of birds besides as many as 501 species of valuable plants and 82 species of orchids.

Tiger conservation authority

There was a recent proposal to create an exclusive tiger protection force (TPF) for deployment in Similipal which is yet to see the light of the day despite the reported assurances from the national tiger conservation authority (NTCA) to fund the exclusive force. Many are also of the view that the Maoists’ entry into the important national park could have been stopped had the authorities managed a cordial relationship with the tribals residing inside the sanctuary since long.

The forest department personnel in Similipal and the local tribals were at loggerheads for the last couple of years over the latter’s “Akhanda Sikar” – an annual ritual in which tribals go on hunting expeditions for almost a month. It is widely believed that the local tribals had provided the Maoists assistance during their Similipal operations.

The future appears worrying for the Naveen Patnaik government because the left ultras have already started eyeing  other sanctuaries in the state after settling down in Similipal.  In fact the Maoists had already made an appearance at Nuapada
--- a wildlife sanctuary in western Nuapara district which compelled the state government to seek a detailed report from the forest department on the possible naxal menace to wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forest areas across the state.

The need of the hour perhaps is the deployment of central forces like the CRPF at least in some key wildlife sanctuaries. “A demand has already been placed with the central government for deployment of CRPF in Similipal”, said Mohanty.

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