Kendrapara: The state government’s recent move to acquire land for three mega projects – a steel plant, riverine port, and coastal highway – has come in for sharp criticisms and resistance from locals as well as environmentalists.
According to sources, the government has launched a land acquisition process for the establishment of a steel plant by ArcelorMittal, in partnership with Nippon Steel of Japan, in the Mahakalpara block of the district. Plans are also afoot for the establishment of the state’s first riverine port project at Akhadasali under Mahakalpara block.
Moreover, a 49-km long coastal highway will be constructed in the district under Centre sponsored Bharatmala Pariyojana. However, land acquisition for these three projects has evoked sharp reactions and protests from the residents and environmentalists as well. The resistance is coming mostly from people residing in forest lands for a long. They have been demanding land pattas. Similarly, fishermen fearing loss of livelihood and environmentalists apprehending ecological degradation in Bhitarkanika National Park, adjoining rivers, and water bodies have been mulling agitations. It is apprehended that rare Olive Ridley turtles that visit Gahirmatha marine sanctuary every year for mass nesting and breeding might stop coming to the area once the project is implemented. It is also apprehended that these projects will speed up the coastal erosion which might spell havoc for the district.
Environmentalist Prabhu Prasad Mohapatra said that 49-km stretch of the coastline in the district will be included in the coastal highway project like other coastal districts. The highway that will pass through Jambu forest, Gahirmatha forest range and Satabhaya inside Bhitarkanika National Park will connect Dhamra in Bhadrak district. The project will also have a bridge over some of the rivers and nullahs, he said. The coastal highway project will connect the ports on Odisha’s coast and boost tourism and social development.
However, the proposed steel plant and coastal highway project will lead to a loss of biodiversity and natural environment in Bhitarkanika National Park and a loss of livelihood for the fishermen, he added.
Similarly, green activist Prabhakar Samal said that Bhitarkanika, which is spread over 672 sq km of area, was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1975 while 145 sq km of its area was pronounced a national park in 1998. The area has also been designated as a Ramsar site in 2002. The wetland, wildlife, and rich biodiversity always attract nature lovers. The natural environment, flora & fauna, marine creatures, and mangrove forests which act as a shield against natural calamities will be destroyed, he added. Nature lover and Prakruti Bandhu awardee Aniruddh Rout said that Olive Ridley will stop coming to Gahirmatha after being deterred by the bright lights of scores of vehicles that would travel on the highway. He said that this has been observed in the past too.
Earlier, the turtles used to lay eggs on the 25-km stretch of coastline from the Mangala River to the Harchandi River mouth in the Bay of Bengal near Brahmagiri in the Puri district. However, sea creatures stopped visiting the place after 2014. Gayadhar Dhal, district president of Odisha Krushak Sabha, Kendrapara said residents of 20 villages have been residing on forest land for the last 70 years. Penalty is collected from them in Form-K and the receipt is handed over to them for encroaching on forest land. He said that the government is acquiring land for the projects but the residents should be given land pattas before acquiring their land. The land patta will help them get compensation for which a memorandum has been submitted to the district administration. He warned that they would take to the streets if the administration tries to evict them from forest land.