Keonjhar: The Baitarani river flowing through Keonjhar is considered a holy one in the district, but over the years its water is getting contaminated due to release of effluents from mines and industrial units along its coast.
Deforestation and soil erosion are other two factors responsible for the spurt in pollution of the river. The river course is said to be reducing its depth.
Baitarani nurtures flora and fauna in Mayurbhanj, Jajpur, Bhadrak and Kendrapara districts, apart from being a lifeline for agriculture in all these districts. Its health has a lot to do with the ecology of riparian pockets, some environmentalists observed.
A number of mines and industrial units are operating in the river basin area of Baitarani over years. Social activists and environmentalists said the mines and industrial units endanger the river. They should be closed, they pointed out. They have demanded massive plantation along the river basin to save ecology and the river.
It may be recalled that the MB Shah Commission which was probing the multi-crore mining scam in the state had expressed concern over mining on both sides of the river. In his report, Shah had opposed mineral extraction on both sides of the river.
On the basis of this report, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had directed the state government to take action against 55 mines of 50 companies along the banks of Baitarani. The MoEF ministry has also recommended lease cancellation of these mining firms.
But no one has any idea about what action was taken against these mining firms. Various outfits and environmentalists have demanded a review of the action as recommended against the mines.
On the other hand, big industrial units have been exploiting the river water for their own use. Lakhs of litres of water is drawn up from the river through pipes on a daily basis, it is said.
Baitarani river originates in Gonasika hill under Bansapal block and flows through Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and parts of Jharkhand. The water of the Baitarani sustains agriculture in thousands of hectares of farmlands in all the districts and the neighbouring state. After crossing 360-km, it falls into Bay of Bengal in Bhadrak.
Its catchment area in Odisha is 13,482 square/km. However, over last 30 years, the river is getting polluted due to rampant mining activities, industrial effluents along its banks.
In the past, various outfits have staged agitations for its protection. But no step is being taken for its protection, it was alleged.
Expressing concern over the issue, lawyer Ashok Das said if mining activities are allowed along its banks, the river is sure to see its death some day.
“There is a need for protective and preventive measures against mining and industrial activities in its peripheral areas,” he noted.
Maheswar Sahu, president of the Odisha Nadi Surakhya Samiti said due to mining, Baitarani river is being polluted while the state government has a responsibility to protect it anyway.
“In coming days, our outfit will stage agitations for its protection,” Sahu warned.
ADM Santosh Nayak said necessary steps will be taken for protection of the Baitarani river while at different times, its water is being tested.