Locals allege the farms are demolished in such a way that owners repair them and come back later
Officials on June 17, 2021 launched a massive demolition drive against the illegal prawn farms in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park, in accordance with the order of the Orissa High Court.
The court, in its order dated May 31, 2021 had directed the district administration to dismantle all illegal prawn gheries (farms) in Bhitarkanika.
This was after Mohit Agarwal, the amicus curiae of the court, pointed out that despite a plethora of statutory provisions, no cases or complaints had yet been registered against violators.
The court also directed the collector of Kendrapara, where the park is located, to arrange for satellite verification of the entire district for detection and action against the farms.
The court also expressed its deep concern about the poor progress made in the removal of the farms, which was essential to revive drinking water sources.
Niranjan Behera, the sub collector of Kendrapara, said the administration had started the demolition of prawn farms built over forest and government land in Dibakarpur village within the park June 17.
He added that all the shrimp farms around the park were illegal as this violated the Coastal Regulation Zone and the rulings of the Supreme Court and High Court.
The forest department will plant mangrove saplings over the dismantled prawn farms to convert the area into mangrove forest, Behera said.
Prawn farm owners also dump the effluents of the gherries into the nearby rivers and ponds. They also pollute the groundwater sources in the villages. Illegal prawn farms also pose a direct threat to the nearby mangrove forests. Recently, many villagers of these areas blamed the mushrooming of illegal prawn farms and their effluents for destroying their fertile agricultural lands.
But many locals alleged that the authorities allowed owners to collect prawns from their farms before the start of the demolition work.
In many places, the officials damaged those portions of the farms that would be easy to repair within a few days.
The administration had demolished such farms umpteen times in the past. However, the farm owners had managed to repair them and were thus still thriving, Hemant Rout, an environmentalist, told this reporter.
In 2015, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declared 192 villages around Bhitarkanika as Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) to prevent ecological damage caused due to developmental activities. ESZs prohibit any shrimp farming within two kilometers from Bhitarkanika. For this, the administration should demolish all illegal prawn farms.
Mamata Mohapatra, the district fisheries officer of Kendrapara said only 729 shrimp farmers of the district had registered their farms covering 1,400 acres of land in the district.
“But other shrimp farms are illegal as this violates the Coastal regulation Zone and the rulings of the Supreme Court and High Court. Farmers cultivating shrimp without registering with the Coastal Aquaculture Authority are liable to be imprisoned for three years and levied a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh,” she said.
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