Column: Chilika In The Grip Of Prawn Mafia

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The famous Chilika lake continues to be in the grip of the prawn mafia. Cash rich prawn traders , who export the boneless fish to international destinations, pay the local culturists who build prawn dykes by encroaching parts of the lake which is choking.

Commercialisation of Chilika began long ago with both state government and private entrepreneurs realising that the lake could be marketed as a tourist destination. While state government sought to encash the natural beauty’s of the lake by building rest houses and promoting boat rides private entrepreneurs even attempted to buy an island inside the lake. The deal fell through after the matter got leaked.

But hundreds of tourist boats continue to churn Chilika everyday . Invariably overloaded they take tourists on dolphin sighting trips without bothering about the consequences of getting their boats too close to these eco sensitive animals.

Prawn culture, however, is the most important aspect of Chilika ‘s commercialisation with big money riding on this. It has also been marked by a lot of violence. Even more significantly it has been responsible for rise in the lake’s pollution level which affects the aquatic species that Chilika sustains.

Environmentalists have been cautioning the government against the ill effects of illegal prawn culture for the last several years. Among other things they have warned against the trend of the lake becoming increasingly shallow. The part of Chilika near the Nalabana, the famous bird sanctuary, had become so shallow that sometimes buffaloes raid the island and damage the watch towers erected there.

Prawn culture, however, continues because of the involvement of big money. Environmentalists allege that not only big traders but even politicians and bureaucrats have a stake in this culture. This is the reason why the government has failed to remove prawn dykes from the lake despite repeated attempts.

In the past several eviction drives have been carried out in the lake but each time the prawn culture bunds demolished by the administration re-appear. Even the judiciary has expressed its concern over the issue but a permanent solution to the problem continues to evade the government.

Chilika, has f course, is not the only place in the state where illegal shrimp culture is being practised. Districts like Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara are also notorious for unsanctioned prawn farming. The lust for money has made people even convert their farmlands into prawn ponds. Bangladeshi infiltrators, who specialise in this kind of culture, have cleared even mangrove forests to make way for shrimp ponds.

However, it’s impact on Chilika has been most disastrous. Considering that the lake, which happens to be a Ramsay site and one of the most famous wetlands of the world, needs to be conserved at all costs, the government must act quickly and decisively in the interest of us all.

Care should also be taken to ensure that prawn culture does not impact normal farming in the state. In areas where farmers have been sacrificing farm land for prawn culture should be sensitised and warned against doing so. This problem can be solved with a two pronged approach-creating awareness against illegal farming farming and taking coercive action against the violators of law.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)