The green cover of picturesque Kandhamal district was ravaged as a result of the communal violence, triggered by a community clash in Brahmanigaon village on December 24.
While the forest department officials told Hindustan Times that nearly 600 trees were cut to block roads during the carnage, NGOs working in the area put the figure at more than 1,000.
Seventy per cent of Kandhamal district has forest cover and trees line both sides of the roads. Trees were cut both by attackers in majority-dominated areas to stop police entry as well as by Christians in minority-dominated areas of Daringbadi block, where people apprehended attacks and barricaded their areas by creating roadblocks.
N.C. Mohanty, divisional forest officer of Kandhamal district, told Hindustan Times: “The counting of trees lost due to violence is not yet over. According to preliminary estimates, nearly 500-600 trees were cut to use as road blocks. Trees of protected forests have also been felled. According to law, it is a crime to cut trees in protected forest areas. In the case of other trees, timber transit rules do not permit the transportation of logs of wood.”
Sources in the forest department, however, told HT that forest rangers and guards were reluctant to lodge cases though they know the people who cut the trees.
“Our forest guards are staying in the same villages as the people who cut the trees and indulged in violence. If the forest guards lodge cases against them, the accused can attack them as well,” said a senior forest official of Kandhamal district.
Rama Das, who runs an NGO called Nipidit in Phulbani, which works on forest-related issues told HT: “There are four entry roads in the district and on every road you can see branches lying all over. Besides, trees in private compounds have also been cut and uprooted. The Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force took 17-18 hours
to clear each road. From the time they took, it's apparent that the number of trees must be much more than the official figures.”
Members of the minority community created road blockades with logs to shield themselves from attackers.
Junas Pradhan, block chairman of Daringbadi told HT, "The Christians apprehended retaliatory attacks after the 'attack' on Swami Laxmananda Saraswati at Dasingbadi. Hence, people resorted to road blockades by cutting trees so that no one could enter our areas."
Meanwhile, normalcy returned to the area on Monday.
Police have started arresting people and the number of people booked so far has increased to 27. In Brahmanigaon, the police have seized 12 rifles and 12 people were taken into custody. In Baliguda, five people have been arrested.