Bhubaneswar: The threat to the riverine ecology in the state has escalated manifold in the last few years with rampant encroachments on the floodplains of Mahanadi in Odisha, especially near Cuttack city.
On the one hand, the government has admitted before the courts and tribunals that there are encroachments on the floodplains of Mahanadi in Cuttack, on the other, it has allowed as well as promoted several infrastructure projects to come up there owing to the lack of any law or guidelines regarding protecting the eco-sensitive zone of the river.
In the last few years, the government has allowed dumping of wastes on the river floodplains for mega events, announced expansion of the new building of SCB Medical College and boasted about the Baliyatra Riverfront Improvement (BARFI) project on the same riverine zone.
Experts apprehend that the invasion of the Mahanadi floodplains would damage the ecology of the area. “Floodplains are areas along the periphery of a river that accommodate flood waters. If the government allows more human interference and construction activities, it could harm the natural potential of rivers to control floods,” said Shankar Prasad Pani, an environmentalist and National Green Tribunal (NGT) lawyer.
Environmentalists in Cuttack are angry over the expansion of government constructions in the floodplains of Mahanadi in the city. “I had filed a case before the NGT on the issue around five years back and also challenged other upcoming projects there. If further invasions are made, it could make Cuttack city more vulnerable to urban flooding and prove to be disastrous for the city,” said Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist based in Cuttack.
The NGT and Orissa High Court have dealt with the issue in the past and asked the government to enact laws and norms to regulate the activities on the floodplains of Mahanadi and other rivers where clear demarcations of sensitive zones are necessary. In fact, there is no demarcated floodplain zone in Odisha – a fact vetted by the NGT in its written order.
In 2020, the NGT had asked the state Water Resources Department to enact norms for Mahanadi floodplains. In its written order, the NGT had said, “We constitute a joint committee…to consider the issue and lay down norms so as to ensure that the proposal of the state for construction of the medical college and river front development takes place in accordance with law, without any damage to the floodplains of the rivers.”
In its response, the department said that it is at no fault. Officials well versed with the developments said that the government dredged sand from the river and dumped it on the banks as per an order of the Orissa High Court. It also said that the norms for demarcation of flood plain was in process and would be submitted to the NGT soon.
Manish Kumar, OP