Odisha’s mega drinking water project: No proper environmental assessment, NGT pulls up Centre, state

The IIT panel in charge of the assessment never visited site and study report was based on secondary data only, alleged the petitioner

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Tuesday 12 October 2021
NGT issues notices to Centre and state on mega drinking water project carried out without proper environment assessment in Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The eastern zone branch of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently issued show cause notices to the Odisha government and Centre for alleged flouting green laws while clearing a mega drinking water project in the eastern state. 

The move was in response to a petition filed by Kshitish Kumar Singh alleging that no environment of social impact assessment was done for the Rs 892-crore project in Kharasrota river near Bhitarkanika National Park in Kendrapara district.

The affidavit filed before NGT by the principal secretary of Odisha’s water resources department has misled the tribunal as well as the people, the petitioner said. “The Environmental Impact Assessment study in the mega drinking water project was not done at all as it had been earlier stated by the government agencies.”

A division bench of NGT comprising Justice Amit Sthalekar and judicial member Saibal Dasgupta issued notices to the central and state government agencies on October 4, 2021. 

The monitoring committee for the Bhitarkanika National Park eco-sensitive zone was constituted without proper quorum envisaged in a 2015 notification by the central government.

The committee reported that a study on Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was conducted by the department of civil engineering of the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad prior to the commencement of the project work. However, the IIT panel never visited the site and the study report was based on secondary data only, alleged the petitioner.

The affidavit mentioned that Professor Shashidhar from the department vetted the ESIA. The petition mentioned that he had also admitted in an email dated August 26, 2021 presented before the NGT panel that he had not visited the site. 

The Mega Piped Water Supply Project has been approved by the state government under the Basudha Yojana to supply drinking water to Chandabali, Tihidi, Basudevpur and Dhamnagar blocks of Bhadrak district. 

Residents of the 220 riverside villages in Kendrapara are opposed to the project, claiming Kharosotra rive in their district will dry up after the implementation of the project. 

They alleged that inadequate water flow in the river due to the project will gradually destroy the agriculture and environment in the villages that are home to around 400,000 under Aul and Rajkanika blocks of the district.

Many locals also alleged that on the pretext of providing water to the people, the government has planned to supply water to multinational companies and big businesses for running plants and industries. 

“If the companies are allowed to draw water from the river, the water level will fall drastically and adversely affect farming in Kendrapara district,” the villagers contested.

The villages around Bhitarkanika National Park are already facing problems from salinisation and the project will worsen the crisis, said Bidhan Das, secretary of the Kharasrota River Bachao Sangram Samiti. “Saline water will make irrigation difficult.”

This project will likely lead to shortages of drinking and irrigation water as well as cause changes in aquatic ecosystems, he added. 

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