Pradeep Pattanayak

At the very onset of summer, the pictures of Odisha’s longest river Mahanadi emerging in districts like Subarnapur, Boudh and Nayagarh are alarming. 

There is sand and sand in the river as far as one can see. The gorges are looking like puddles. It seems that the lifeline of the state is struggling for its own life. The fast-drying up Mahanadi has started leaving its mark on the riparian areas. 

Nayagarh town is a case in point. 

Even at the beginning of the summer, the town is grappling with acute drinking water problem. The three turbines of a drinking water project at Banapur have been lying defunct for a week now, thanks to the decreasing water level in the river. While drinking water supply has been severely affected because of this, wells are drying up as well. What is more, tube wells are not dispensing water any longer.

With tankers not being able to meet the people’s requirement, resentment is brewing among the people.

“Wells are drying up. Tube wells are not dispensing water. We are facing a lot of trouble,” said Laxmipriya Dash, a Nayagarh town resident. 

When contacted Nayagarh district Collector, Rabindra Nath Sahu said over the phone, “Water is not supplied from what you see in the river. For the supply of drinking water, an intake point, or it can be said a well is dug as deep as 30 feet and from this well water is supplied. Yes, the water in the river goes a long way in charging groundwater.”

On the other hand, the people depending on the river to eke out a living are a worried lot. The worst affected are fishing communities and farmers living in riparian villages. 

If the river’s water levels of the last year and this year are compared, the gravity of the situation can be well understood. 

Last year this time, the water level at Hirakud was 621.58 feet. This year, it is 617.43 feet, a decrease by around 4 feet. 

The difference in the inflow of water from Chhattisgarh to Hirakud is also startling. On March 17, 2022, the inflow was recorded as 2695 cusec. On the other hand, on March 17, 2023, it was only 456 cusec. 

The convener of Mahanadi Banchao Abhiyan, Sudarshan Dash ascribed the present condition of Mahanadi River to the Mahanadi Tribunal and the inertia of the Odisha government. 

“The government had once said it would construct seven barrages on the river Mahanadi. There is no sign of a barrage. The fact is that the government wishes for the river to die like this and for people to get sucked into the vortex of problems,” said Dash.

Water Resources Minister Tukuni Sahu said, “We have set a target to construct 500 check dams under Mukhyamantri Adibandh Tiari Yojana (MATY). Our department has spruced itself up to ensure the beginning and completion of the projects in the right time.”