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Sadistic sea and sleeping supervision: Odisha villages facing extinction threat
A violent Bay of Bengal, high tide and sea incursion is taking a heavy toll of the 480 km stretch of Odisha coast. A gusty sea is breaching the embankments, sand dunes and other natural barriers and saline water is entering the agricultural fields and damaging crops. The very existences of some of the villages are also threatened due to sea erosion.

While the sea side villagers are spending sleepless nights apprehensive of their immediate safety and future, the state government is caught napping. The state government is indifferent to this disaster, supposedly triggered by climate change that not only threatens the life and livelihood of lakhs of people, but also threatens the very geography of the state.

With the onset of monsoon the sea has become more violent and there is high tide. It was particularly so on 14th and 15th of July. During this period more than 300 villages in Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur and Puri districts faced the wrath of the unsparing sea. In Sadar, Remuana and Basta blocks of Balasore district, sea water entered the village area and inundated the agricultural fields, damaging the young rice plants.

The villagers are worried about their future as the saline water has rendered these fields useless for agriculture. What they will do and how they will survive in the coming years is worrying the villagers. But for some other villagers the situation is even worse as in Inchudi, a village known for salt movement in Odisha, the village was surrounded with saline water from all sides delinking it from the rest of the world.

Bramhagiri and Krushnaprasad blocks in Puri district in the vicinity of the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia, has been severely threatened by the sea. Saline water has entered many villages on the banks of Chilka and the islands within it. The local people were scared to their bone when the high tide of the sea opened up a new mouth of Chilka Lake to the sea at Jagnyadanda. Prior to this at different points of time new natural mouths were created by the eroding sea at Chadachadi, Lunapani, and Biluamari.

This is to be remembered that to stop Chilka from silting up that had choked its natural mouth to the sea, a new mouth had to be dredged. But after this sea erosion has opened up new mouths. Opening of new mouths has exposed the villages on the banks of Chilka to the brute force of the sea.

This is particularly so far the villages like Arakhakuda, that is directly opposite to the new natural mouths created. With the opening of the new mouth at Jagnyadanda more than 15 villages in Chilka has been under the threat.

Mangalasahi of Arakhakuda, Laxminarayansahi and Harachandisahi, Ramalenka Noliasahi etc are worst affected with the water of Chilka lake surrounding the villages from all sides. The ring dam around Chilka has been damaged and the saline water has damaged 20 houses. The villagers of Chilka bank, those have been living with Chilka since their births are now scared with the changed tenor of the pristine lake.

"We have never seen Chilka so violent, even during the recent Phailin cyclone. Now we are scared to do fishing in the lake. Neither the Govt nor district administration supervision have reached out to such marooned villages and provided any succor to them," say villagers.

But the plight of the villagers of Satabhaya and Barahipur, where the scurrying sea has already engulfed five villages out of seven over last three decades or so, is even more precarious. While these villagers have been promised of resettlement in another place, it still has remained a promise at best. These villagers, after the high tide on 14th and 15th of July have seen their doom in the advancing sea water.

The sea has breached the embankment and the sand dunes. Water has surrounded these villages from different sides. The scared villagers had to take shelter on the sand dunes. Though their houses are safe, but their agricultural land has been inundated with sea water. Though they had informed the district administration the administration failed to reach them in time. So the villagers were compelled to repair the 100 metre long breach on their own.

And the story of destruction goes on district by district and village by village. Even the famous Puri beach is also under threat and the high tide has scared the tourists and local traders when it crossed the road and reached the hotels. One thing is common that the sea has been spreading its tentacles and threatening to engulf these villages like the other villages of Satabhaya.

And the other commonality is the indifference of the administration. Leave aside any concrete long term action to arrest the menacingly progressing sea; the state government does not even have a knee jerk reaction.

And this is so when more than 215 kms of the coast line is under the threat of erosion by sea, Satabhaya being the flag bearer. Odisha government is yet to come out with a concrete plan of action to stop the eroding sea from engulfing the villages.

It is not that the State government is unaware of the danger that is triggered by the climate change. Way back in 2008 Ministry of Environment and Forests had commissioned Anna University, Chennai to study the coastal erosion in Odisha.

It is five years since the study report was submitted. The report paints the situation of Odisha coast as grim. As per the Environment Protection Act, the areas having more than five meters of erosion annually are depicted as high erosion zone and 2-5 meters of annual erosion as medium erosion zone.

A report by Anna University based on the remote sensing imageries of 1972, 1990, 2000 and 2010, has found that 5.93% of the 480 km coast has dangerous level of erosion, 13.89% of the coast is experiencing medium erosion and 25.75 of the coast is experiencing low level of erosion. Altogether the Bay of Bengal has cast its evil eye on 45.57% of the coast line that is about 219 km out of 480 km.

While the report by Anna University experts is alarming, it seems that Odisha government has put the report in the deep freeze. On the excuse that the report has been based on the remote sensing, and there is need for ground truthing it, government of Odisha has sought clarifications from the study team. This was not the only report that was commissioned.

But, all these these reports are closely guarded documents now and precious little has been done on them. While the government has been waxing eloquent about Odisha being the first state to develop a Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), it has not yet stated working on the biggest threat to the state from climate change as yet.

In the CCAP it had been proposed that to counter the eroding sea saline embankments will be constructed and geo-tubes will be used to protect the coast. But the first of the geo-tubes that was to be piloted near Satabhaya has faced the hurdle of environmental clearance. And the objection has been raised by the its own Forest Department. As the area where this geo-tube is to be piloted comes under the Bhitarkanika protected area, it is mandatory to seek the green clearance.

Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar has informed that the state government has not yet applied for environmental clearance. Geo-tubes is not the only project that has been stalled due to absence of environmental clearance.

Even the Biju Nagar project meant to resettle more than 500 families of Satabhaya and other six villages near it (five of them have their coordinates well inside the sea now) also has faced the same hurdle of environmental clearance.

The efforts to resettle the families of Satabhaya and other six villages have been going on since 1970 without any success. It is appalling to know that there is absolutely no coordination between the various departments of the state government. The case in point here is the Revenue and Disaster Management Department and the Forest Department.

Tapan Padhi working on water related issues in Odisha since last two decades says, "The pace at which state government in responding to the sea erosion in Odisha is really worry some. While the sea is marching ahead in leaps and bounds, Odisha government's response is moving at snails pace at best. It needs to work fast."

He added, "But one can understand the pace at which it is moving from the fact that the villagers of Satabhaya and other six could not be resettled in a span of more than four decades. Now the state government has earmarked the land for resettlement, but adequate land has not been acquired yet and environmental clearance has not been obtained. This narrates the intent of Odisha government."

Padhi further says, "While the geo-tube project should have been put on an express track, it also faces the same fate of environmental clearance. One wonders how the state government that can go to any extent to acquire land for the industries, and get the green clearance,; not showing the same vigour for the people of Odisha who are facing the fury of the sea. It has done little for the protection of the threatened areas."

He adds, "Whether it likes it, or not, Odisha government has to resettle many more villages in the coming years and the government machinery has to gear itself to do this sooner than the sea marches into such villages. It is also appalling to know that the only outcome of the Climate Change Action Plan of Odisha has been grant of huge sums of money to the power plants under CAPEX, but it does not have the money for the sea side villages who are listening to the thuds of doom every day."

So only one thing that is expected of the Government of Odisha is that it must come out of its slumber, should act in the first place to address the problem of sea erosion and it must act fast. Lest it won't be left with much to act upon. Is it asking for too much from a government that is napping?

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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