Published: 15th October 2019
Meet Odisha's Bichi bhai, who has been saving olive ridleys in Odisha for 23 years
Winner of the Biju Patnaik Award for Wildlife Conservation 2019 Bichitrananda Biswal has motivated and inspired many youngsters to take up the cause he fights for
A visit to the beach was a must for Bichitrananda Biswal as a child. Residing in a village called Gundalaba, which is 100 metres from the sea, in Puri, these trips were made twice a day. And every time upon reaching the shores, Bichitrananda used to be astounded by the number of dead olive ridley turtles on the beach. One day, when he set out to count the dead bodies, the number went beyond 2,000. Hence, since 1996, Bichitrananda, fondly known as Bichi bhai, has been tirelessly working for turtles, snakes, mangroves, Casuarina forests and spreading awareness among villages. For this selfless service, the 37-year-old received the Biju Patnaik Award for Wildlife Conservation 2019 just this month.
On the shore: Turtles during the nesting season | (Pic: Express)
When Bichitrananda started out, there was hardly any help from the Forest Department, so he was pretty much a one-man army. In the year 2000, he managed to engage the department as well and together, they monitored, patrolled on the beach, relocated vulnerable turtle eggs to nearby hatcheries, help release young ones into the sea, organised beach clean-up initiatives and even spread the word near the area of the mouth of Devi river in Puri. "When the number of dead turtles showing up on the shore reduced to 500, I felt a little satisfied," informs Bichitrananda. Turtles feed on jellyfish and keep their population in check. Otherwise, the jellyfish would feed endlessly on fish eggs and larvae, hampering the livelihoods of fisherman. Bichitrananda offered this logical explanation to villages around him to engage them in turtle conservation.
He helped form Pirjhania Mahila Vana Surkhya Samiti which received the National Biodiversity award from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India in the year 2012
Not only this, Biswal inspired a generation of youngsters, including Soumya Ranjan Biswal and Dillip Kumar Biswal who won the Edex 40 Under 40 award this year, and inspired in them a dedication towards this cause. He has even engaged women, especially after the 1999 Odisha Cyclone which wreaked havoc on Puri. "When I tried to spread awareness about the importance of Casuarina forests among men, they just laughed at me and called me mad. It was the women really who understood and joined me in my cause," says Bichitrananda, who has studied up to class X.
Another point to note is that this conservationist is often called upon to rescue and release snakes as well and has rescued more than 2,000 snakes till date. His efforts towards conservation of mangrove and house sparrow, a bird that evokes childhood nostalgia for him, is also noteworthy. He has built 54 artificial house sparrow nests in Pentakota and coastal villages of Astaranga. His current focus is seed ball-making to restore the green cover of Odisha post-Cyclone Fani and making cloth and paper bags
The man himself: Biswal works extensively on the beach | (Pic: Bichitrananda Biswal)
Never say never
Recently, Bichitrananda suffered paralysis and 30 per cent of his body was affected by it, but regular physiotherapy has helped him and to no one's surprise, he still goes to the beach and continues working for conservation. "There are so many animals in the world. Mothers birth the child and keep them very close, but olive ridley turtles lay eggs and get back to the waters. I want to be a parent to these hatchlings," says Bichitrananda and leaves us with an earnest invitation to visit him one day.
Groups he is a part of or he has helped form:
- Member, Sea Turtle Action Programme, Astaranga
- Member, Odisha Marine Resource Conservation Consortium
- Member, Turtle Action Group, Bengaluru
- Advisor, Odisha Paryavaran Suraksha Abhiyan
- Advisor, Pirjhania Mahila Vana Surkhya Samiti
The winner: Biswal with the award | (Pic: Bichitrananda Biswal)
For more on him, check out bit.ly/2nOduVG