Two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Odisha’s Balangir district Tuesday, hundreds of trees were cut allegedly to open up space for temporary helipads and for security reasons, prompting a blame game among the local forest department unit, railways and public works department.
“About a thousand trees have been felled. A notice will be issued to the Railways to explain why they did this and with whose permission”, Samir Satpathy DFO Balangir said to the press.
The trees stood on land owned by the Railways, which has distanced itself from the incident. A spokesperson for East Coast Railways said, “It’s the PWD that can construct helipads. Railways do not carry out such activities”. PWD personnel on site they “had no idea” who cut the trees.
In November, the Odisha government had come under severe criticism from the BJP and Congress after hundreds of trees were felled in Dhenkanal district to clear land for setting up a beer making unit. Local women, using Chipko tactics, had protested the tree cutting and clashed with police and local administration.
The BJP distanced itself from the controversy by pointing fingers at the ruling BJD. “It is the state government’s responsibility to provide a helipad, security”, said BJP MLA Rabi Narayan Nayak.
The BJD has refused to get into the blame game. Rajya Sabha MP Prasanta Nanda said, “He is the PM. Whenever he goes somewhere, state governments have to provide security. Odisha has always taken the necessary steps in this regard. If trees need to be felled (for his security), the state government can take an appropriate decision”.