Over 15,000 hectares under illegal prawn enclosures: Chilika Development Authority

Rampant unlawful prawn culture is destroying the ecology of the lake, say environmentalists

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Thursday 11 March 2021

Over 15,500 hectares in the Chilika lake, Asia’s biggest brackish water lagoon, have been illegally encroached upon by are under illegal prawn culture enclosures (gheries) and ponds, according to an affidavit filed by the chief executive of Chilika Development Authority (CDA).

More than 12,131 ha of the lake whose spread includes part of Ganjam, Puri and Khordha districts, were under illegal prawn gheries, around 1,440 ha under prawn culture ponds, in violation of the Centre's Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act, 2005. 

The CDA chief executive Sushanta Nanda filed the affidavit after Orissa High Court set a March 8, 2021 deadline for the state government to submit an affidavit on the progress of demolition of illegal prawn farms in Chilika Lake. The court was hearing a public interest litigation for restoration of the ecology of the wetland.

Environmentalist Prafulla Samantara told Down to Earth:

“Chilika is the sources of income for around one lakh people, especially fishermen of Ganjam, Puri and Khordha. We have asked for the removal of the prawn gherries from the lake and protection of the livelihood of the fishermen.”

The illegal prawn gheries have been damaging the breeding ground of the fishes. The eco-system of the lake was also severely affected due to prawn culture, he said.

The Supreme Court had asked the chief justices of 15 states on April 3, 2017 to take up the issue of conservation of ecology of important wetlands. Of the 26 major wetlands located in 15 states, Chilika and Bhitarakanika National Park are in Odisha. Accordingly, the HC in Cuttack had also issued orders to the state government on January 22, 2019 to evict the prawn farms from these two wetlands.

In its affidavit, the CDA chief executive said over 25,113 ha area in the lake was under illegal prawn gheries at the time.  Around 15,163 ha have been freed up since 2018. In the last year, major eviction drive could not be carrie due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Moreover, during the period, new prawn gheries have come up over 2,182 ha of the lake, taking the total to 12,131.78 ha under prawn gheerie area which need to be evicted.

Meanwhile the district administrations in collaboration of the CDA have started to remove the gheries from March 1, 2021. Puri and Khurda districts have so far evicted removed net gheries over 647ha and 11.39 ha area, respectively, sources said. 

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