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Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Ridding Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake, of illegal prawn gherries ( enclosures) is a Herculean task. The gherries re-appear within days of demolition by the administrations of Puri, Ganjam and Khurda, the districts straddled by the huge water body which was declared a Ramsar site long ago.

The Puri district administration had by November 25, 2019, cleared encroachment over an area of 268.37 acres within Krushnaprasad area of the lake. While there has been no such drive by the Puri administration in the lake since then officials maintain that eviction is a continuous process. The problem, however, recurs as local villagers rebuild both earthen and net gherries for prawn culture.

The administrations of Ganjam and Khurda face a similar challenge. The problem has acquired serious dimensions because of the high stakes involved in the culture of this boneless fish. The culture is backed allegedly by cash-rich prawn traders as well as powerful politicians and bureaucrats.

Prawn culture is part of Chilika’s growing commercialisation which has done the lake more harm than good. Illegal shrimp farming is one aspect of lake’s exploitation fir money and tourism is another. While the government has been marketing Chilika as a tourism destination with an eye on revenue generation private entrepreneurs have been equally keen on milking the natural beauty of the lake. Apart from building rest houses and promoting boating activities, they have also been trying to exploit the lake in other ways.

A big controversy had erupted a few decades ago when a businessman had tried to buy an island inside the lake from the erstwhile ruler of the area. The news got leaked and the deal had to be called off following protests by local fisher-folk who worship Kalijai, the deity enshrined on the Kalijai island, as the presiding deity of the lake.

But nothing has done more harm to the lake than prawn culture which has been responsible for a lot of violence in the lake area. It has also resulted in an increase in the lake’s pollution level which affects the salinity of its water and consequently the aquatic species that it sustains.

Environmentalists have time and again cautioned the government against the ill effects of illegal prawn culture. Among other things, they have warned against the trend of the lake becoming shallow. The part of Chilika near the Nalabana, the famous bird sanctuary in its core area, has become so shallow that sometimes herds of buffaloes swim up to the island. Their occasional raids remain a cause of concern for the authorities.

But prawn culture continues despite protests and controversies thanks to the influence of money bags, politicians and bureaucrats. They all are alleged to have a stake in the business. This is the reason why the government’s repeated attempts to free Chilika of encroachment have failed to produce desirable results.

However, such problems notwithstanding the drive against illegal prawn culture in Chilika must continue if the lake has to survive. Otherwise, the day is not far off when our children will learn about this world-famous lake only from the textbooks.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the 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)

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