Cuttack: In May this year, a pond was dug up in Bodhapur village under Sadar block of Cuttack at an expenditure of Rs 6 lakh granted by the 14th Central Finance Commission in 2016-17. The construction work began May 2, 2019 and completed June 12.
So far so good, but, interestingly, the pond is in the middle of a river, Sukapaika, which is a distributary of Mahanadi. Encroachment of any kind in a river is illegal, even if it is a pond.
Cuttack Sadar block development officer Debasish Patnaik is aware that the Bodhapur gram panchayat has constructed a pond in Bodhapur village, but agreed that it should not be built on the river bed. “I will verify if it has been built in Sukapaika river,” Patnaik told Orissa POST.
On the other hand, Kishannagar tehsildar Sucheta Mohapatra said she had never got any complaint from anyone about any encroachment of the river bed of Sukapaika. “However, it is a dead river,” she added.
Indeed, years of neglect has reduced the river course to a dry patch of landmass, but it is not really ‘dead’, not yet.
The Sukapaika originates from the Mahanadi at Ayatpur village in Cuttack, runs its course for about 40 km only to rejoin the parent river at Tarapur village in the same district. The river’s course covers three blocks including Cuttack Sadar, Nischintakoili and Raghunathpur, over 26 gram panchayats and 425 villages.
In 1952, the state government blocked the starting point of the river with an embankment, thereby completely disconnecting it from Mahanadi, ostensibly to save the villages from flood. Since then, only rainwater in monsoon drained the Sukapaika.
“Over the years, the flood situation has improved considerably due to construction of the Hirakud Dam and Naraj barrage on the Mahandi’s upstream, but no attempt was made to reconnect Sukapaika with the Mahanadi at its origin to allow the water flow naturally,” said Girija Shankar Das, a former sarpanch of Bodhapur gram panchayat.
Villagers said that chocking the Sukapaika has a very adverse effect on the people and their livelihood in the entire area. The paddy fields have become unproductive, fishing has completely stopped and tree cover is vanishing. The river bed is now full of hyacinth, which stinks after it decomposes. Villagers also complain of several diseases afflicting them.
“In my 20s, I had seen enough water in Sukapaika to take bath and swim. Now, the water table has slipped considerably. During summer, we face acute water crisis,” said Ganeshwar Behera, a 67-year-old man from the fishermen community.
There are around 300 fishermen families in Bodhapur and all depended on the Sukapaika for their fish catch.
In 2016, people of many villages along the Sukapaika started a campaign demanding its reconnection with the Mahanadi to allow water flow into its course. “I personally appraise the situation by writing to different departments of the state government so that steps are taken to save the river. But nothing has been done so far in that direction,” said Dr PC Rath, a noted cardiologist who hails from Bodhapur.
Now the people of several villages have formed a platform, Sukapaika Bachao Abhiyan with Dr Rath as convenor to ensure the river flow with water from the Mahanadi.
Priya Ranjan Sahu