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Row over water sharing: Odisha govt's apathy towards Mahendratanaya river
In 1960, the then Odisha Government had announced the construction of an irrigation project over Mahendratanaya near Dambapur of Gajapati district. In 1962, Biju Pattnaik inaugurated the project and ordered its survey work to be undertaken. It is sad and a matter of regret that work could not progress as survey work was not completed.

Again, in 1995, the construction of an irrigation project over Mahendratanaya was announced near Katheipadar, by the erstwhile Odisha government. About 100 crore rupees was estimated to be its cost. Land was earmarked for the dam to be built over an area of 750 hectares. Almost 20 thousand hectares of land were to be irrigated by this project. It is remarkable that from 1960 to 2008, in 48 years, the subsequent governments of Odisha made no progress in the matter.

It is true that respecting the sentiments of the local people, who opposed the construction of the dam, the Odisha government stopped work in 1995. Yet, the government could have constructed some catch dams and anicuts! Had it been done so, the Andhra government would not have been able to create any problems and the flow of Mahendratanaya would not have been imperiled.

For the last 57 years, the governments in power in Odisha have exposed their irresponsibility and lack of foresight. The Odisha government woke up from its slumber when Andhra started its project on 4th April, 2008. After the announcement of the construction of the project, the officials of the irrigation department did not heed to the opinion of the local intellectuals and people who were experts in traditional water resource management. They did not assess the impact of the growing population on the land, forest and water nearby. The demands of the local people have not been given priority and as a result of which the project at Kathiapadar had to be shelved.

The people of 28 villages had opposed it, hence, the project had to be shifted to Badapadara instead of Kathiapadara. The officials of the department did not accept the local peoples' view that two villages were to be affected. If the project was shifted to Badapadara only two villages were to be affected according to local people but the higher officials of the Water Resource department argued that about 10 villages would be affected completely and 9 would be partially affected. Mired in these controversies the project could not make any progress. The Andhra Government, seizing this opportunity, started its project on 4th April, 2008 and on 30th April, 2008, the Chief Minister of Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation for the project work. When the cry of "Save Mahendratanaya" gathered momentum, the Odisha Government woke up, says Shrikanta Padhi.

The initial outlay for the project on Mahendratanaya was 127 crore rupees. In an effort to counter Andhra's scheme the Odisha government started the Dambapur and Champapur projects. With this a severe blow was dealt to Andhra but the delay in starting the project has not affected Andhra significantly. The Dambapur project is about to be completed in June-July 2017. The civil work of the project is over and the mechanical work is in progress. Officials of the department claim that the canal work would be completed soon.

On the other hand, the Champapur project is yet to progress. While the Dambapur project is on the main course of Mahendratanaya river, the Champapur project is being built on river Jalang, a tributary of Mahendratanaya.

The Water Resources department has an excuse to offer as to why the Champapur project work is lagging behind. "Currently the survey is on to build the canal. The problem is the acquisition of land. Through modern technology, we lay underground pipes to overcome the problem of land acquisition. We are also trying to finish the survey work quickly", says the local engineer of the department.

Andhra is trying to complete the project on war footing while the delay by the government of Odisha has left the local people, especially farmers worried. In 2010, that is two years after the foundation stone was laid for the Mahendratanaya river in 2008, Odisha government's Water Resources Department started the work for the Dambapur project. Till date, only 13 kilometres of area has been surveyed. The project was due to be completed in 2017 and the initial expenditure was to be Rs 37 crore for both Dambapur and Champapur. Yet, the cost for Dambapur alone has exceeded Rs 30 crore. Similarly, the estimate for Champapur project has gone beyond 50 crore rupees. The height of the dam is about 10 feet. The problem of drinking water in areas like Paralakhemundi town, Kerandi, Amara, Dalimbapur and Rayagarh villages can be alleviated through the Jalang project of Champapur.

Problems have cropped up over the project over Jalang river at Champapur. A PIL has also been filed by "Save Mahendratanaya Movement Organization." Following this the Water Resources department has stated that there is no plan for shifting the project, yet, the same department has announced in the local media about the shifting of the project.

Ajay Das, the engineer in-charge of the Mahendratanaya project says, "Champapur project (Jalang Canal) is not being shifted. It will be built where more water is available like the place where Jalanga joins Mahendratanaya. It is improper to mislead people through false propaganda and misleading statements."

The Central Water Commission has approved Odisha's project over Mahendratanaya since 2002. Yet the dilatory approach of the Government of Odisha has not been able to safeguard the interest of Mahendratanaya. Had small barrages and anicuts been constructed, Mahendratanaya's natural current would have remained safe. Along with that, the twenty thousand acres of 'Kharif' and ten thousand acres of 'Rabi' crops could have been irrigated and also drinking water supply to Paralakhemundi would have been provided. Through more catch dams, the bio-diversity of the region could have been preserved, thus says Srikanta Padhi of "Save Mahendratanaya Movement Organization."

The manner in which dams and barrages are being built have endangered the natural waters of Mahendratanaya. Odisha must heed the old adage "A stitch in time, saves nine" and expedite the building of its projects. If they continue with their lackadaisical attitude, Odisha's interests will be betrayed and the future of Mahendratanaya will be unsafe as Andhra government will complete its projects faster and while fulfilling their objective will put the government of Odisha in the dock.

You can also read: War over water between Odisha & Andhra and the slowly dying Mahendratanaya River!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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