A number of young women have decided to take upon themselves the responsibility of saving the forest in Sambalpur near Rourkela from timber mafia by attaching themselves emotionally to the trees and protecting them as they would their own brothers.
The reserve forest atop the Budharaja hillock in Sambalpur town, about 150 km from Rourkela, has been losing is green grandeur as a consequence of large-scale felling by timber smugglers.
The Budharaja Surakhsa Samiti, which has been trying to protect the forest from axes for a long time but without much success, has decided to involve in its effort hundreds of young women, most of them college students, who are concerned about the deteriorating health of the forest.
The women tied rakhis to the trees this past Raksha Bandhan and took the pledge to protect their 'tree-brothers' as they would protect their blood brothers.
"The tying of a rakhi on someone means you will protect him till your last breath. Similarly tying a rakhi on a tree bestows on me the responsibility to protect my tree-brother to the best of my ability," said Sangita, a second-year college student.
Environmentalist Rushi Patra told PTI that the 'experiment' was first tried in 2008 with modest success, but in the following two years it caught the fancy of the young and old from all walks of life, especially in Sambalpur city.
The forest, spread across 126 acres, has witnessed many important historic events such as the heroic battle fought by freedom fighter Veer Surendra Sai against the British.
Since the end of the 1980s, the forest is being reduced to a barren expanse thanks to constant attacks by the timber smugglers, Patra said.
However, she said, "We have been successful in our two-decade-long efforts in transforming the giant bald patch back into a verdant green expanse again.
A temple in the forest and a moat around it are in ruins due to years of disuse till a group of locals formed a committee to restore them to their original state, Loknath Panda, a member of the Budharaja temple trust, said.