The State Election Commission in Odisha has exempted forest officials working in wildlife parks and sanctuaries of two districts from election duty in the forthcoming panchayat polls in the state as it would hamper the ongoing wildlife and turtles’ protection drive. Rabindranath Sahoo, secretary of the State Election Commission, said “Forest official from wildlife parks and sanctuaries in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts will not be posted on election duty for the forthcoming poll in the state. But those forest officials who work in the offices lying outside the forest areas will be engaged in poll work.” Vehicles, boats and staff of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks will also not be requisitioned for election duty, Sahoo said. Bhitarkanika National Park authorities had requested the Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur district administrations not to engage any forest personnel on poll duty as it would hamper the ongoing wildlife and turtles protection drive.
Kendrapara Collector Muralidhar Mallick said, “The administration has received the letter from DFO Rajnagar. As desired by the forest department, the administration has exempted the forest staff engaged in forest and turtle protection work from poll-related duty”. “The department had requested the collectors of both the districts recently to exempt forest guards from poll duty. Forest guards are now engaged to protect the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles on the beach and sea,” Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya, said.
“Turtle conservation work will be severely affected if the district administration does not relieve forest guards from poll-related work”, Acharya said.
Stating that officials are patrolling the sea to prevent illegal fishing by the trawlers in Gahiramatha marine sanctuary, Acharya also pointed out that posts of around 20 forest guards are lying vacant since long .
“Lakhs of turtles have already congregated near Gahiramatha beach for mass-nesting soon for which we need more forest guards,” the forest officer added. Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary is the world’s largest rookery of Olive Ridley sea turtles. The panchayat polls in Odisha will be held in five phases on February 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 respectively.