Odisha: Officials Raze Illegal Farms in Bhitarkanika
Locals suspect that illegal farms are being demolished so that their owners repair them and return them over time.
On June 17, 2021, officials launched a massive campaign to demolish illegal farm buildings in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park following an order from the Orissa High Court.
Its plan of May 31, 2021, instructed the district administration to eradicate all illegal cherries (farms) in Bhitarkanika.
This is after Mohit Agarwal, an amicus activist of the court, stated no registered cases or complaints against those who break the law despite the law’s many provisions.
The court also ordered the Kendrapara collector, where the park is located, to arrange for satellite verification for the entire region to identify and action the farms.
The court also expressed its deep concern over the poor progress made on removing farms, which is critical to rehabilitating drinking water sources.
Niranjan Behera, a small collector from Kendrapara, said authorities had begun demolishing prawn farms located on the forest floor and state land in Dibakarpur district inside the park on June 17.
He further added that all shelter farms around the park were illegal as this violated the Coastal Regulation Zone and the High Court’s decisions and High Court.
Behera said the forestry department would plant mangrove seedlings on top of deforested farms to turn the area into a mangrove forest.
Pulled farm owners also dump cherry debris in the river and nearby lakes. They also pollute groundwater sources in the valleys. Illegal farms have also been a direct threat to nearby mangrove forests. Recently, many locals have blamed illegal farms and their waste for destroying their fertile agricultural areas.
But many locals say the authorities allowed their owners to pick up prawns on their farms before the demolition.
In many places, officials damaged those parts of the farm that could easily be repaired in a matter of days.
Managers had demolished such farms twelve times before. However, the farm owners were able to repair it and thus were still thriving, Hemant Rout, an environmentalist, told the reporter.
In 2015, the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change announced 192 villages around Bitarkanika as Eco-Sensitive Zones (SEZs) to prevent environmental damage caused by development activities. SEZs banned the cultivation of shrimp within two kilometers from Bitarkanika. With this, management should demolish all illegal prawn farms.
Mamata Mohapatra, the Kendrapara regional fisheries officer, said only 729 shrimp farmers in the region had registered their 1,400-hectare farms.
“But some shrimp farms remain banned as this disrupts the Zone Coastal management Zone and the decisions of the High Court and the High Court. Farmers who grow shrimp without registering with the Coastal Aquaculture Authority are liable to imprisonment for up to three years and pay a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh,” he said.
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