Kendrapara, Dec 22 (LocalWire) Forest officials on Saturday said they have demolished around 200 acre of illegal prawn gherries at Batighar, Badatubi, Bhetamundia and other villages within Bhitarkanika National Park in Kendrapara district.
“We, under police protection, demolished around 200 acre of illegal shrimp farms over forest land within two days – Friday and Saturday,” Bhitarkanika Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Bimal Prasan Acharya.
“We will demolish around 2000 acre of illegal shrimp farms within the park soon. All the shrimp farms are illegal within the park as it violates the coastal regulation zone and the rulings of the Supreme Court and High Court,” he said.
“We ran JCBs over the illegal shrimp farms in the villages for which security has been tightened. Hundreds of farmers of the seaside villagers blame the mushrooming of illegal shrimp farms and its effluents for destroying their fertile agricultural lands,” said the forest officer.
Farmers cultivating shrimp without registering with the Coastal Aquaculture Authority (CAA) are liable to be imprisoned for three years and levied a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh.
It was mandatory for all shrimp farms to be registered under the provisions of the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act (AAA) and Rules, 2005.
The AAA requires registration of all shrimp farms lying on either side of rivers, creeks, canals etc up to a distance of 5 km from high tide level. Shrimp farms not registered are liable for demolition, said Acharya.
Last year, UNESCO had rejected Bhitarkanika National Park‘s claim for its inclusion in the World Heritage List in its 41st UNESCO World Heritage Committee session in Kraków of Poland citing the mushrooming of illegal prawn farms in the park and its nearby areas as one of the reasons.
Three years back, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) declared 192 villages around Bhitarkanika National Park as Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) to prevent ecological damage caused due to developmental activities around Bhitarkanika, known as India’s second largest mangrove forest after Sundarbans in West Bengal .
“The ESZ prohibits any shrimp farming within two kilometers from Bhitarkanika for which the authorities should demolish all the illegal prawn farms,” said noted environmentalist and secretary of Gahiramatha Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society (GMTMCS) Hemant Rout.
Prawn farm owners also dump the effluents of the prawn gherries into the nearby rivers and ponds that pollute the groundwater sources in the villages. Illegal prawn farms also pose a direct threat to the nearby rich mangrove forests , added Rout.
Last year, the district administration and forest department had demolished large tracts of illegal prawn farms in villages near Bhitarkanika. But the prawn mafias, within two months of the demolition, managed to mend many demolished farms and again started prawn farming.
“After the demolition of the illegal prawn farms, the authorities should plant mangrove saplings on the dismantled farms to convert these areas into mangrove vegetation for preventing prawn farm owners to reconvert the demolished prawn farms again into prawn gheeries,” suggested Rout.
“People from outside with questionable credentials have illegally acquired vast forest areas for shrimp farming by greasing the palms of politicians and corrupt officials,” added Rout.
Hundreds of farmers of the seaside villagers blame the mushrooming of illegal prawn farms and its effluents for destroying their fertile agricultural lands.
“Our villages were famous as the rice bowl of the district few years back. But now the area looks like a small island in the middle of the vast prawn farms covering an area of around 500 acres,” said Batighar villager Arjun Mandal.
“We are now battling against prawn farms owners to save our agricultural lands and water bodies,” he said.
“ I used to grow paddy over my land. But my land lost its fertility and turned barren after a prawn farm owner started releasing the effluents from his nearby prawn gherries towards my agricultural lands since last year,” said Kartik Behera of Batighar.
“Rice is the staple food and paddy farming is the livelihood for the villagers. . But the mushrooming of shrimp farms is wiping out rice crops. The agricultural sector in seaside villages of Kendrapara is in a dire state, as many people have been illegally converting the agriculture land into prawn farms,” said Gayadhar Dhal, a farmers’ leader of Kendrapara.