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Communities Along Sukapaika River in Odisha Come Together to Reverse a Manmade Disaster

The disappearing river has additionally left a mark on the well being and wellbeing of the individuals dwelling round it. “We are sick of water weeds (hyacinths) that cover the stagnant water on the riverbed like a thick mat. These weeds not only turned the water into a breeding ground of mosquitoes and flies but also a habitation of poisonous snakes,” mentioned Sd Sajid Ali (48) of Praharajpur.

Read: Hundreds of Villages in Odisha Languish on the Shores of the Dying Sukapaika River

Roshan Rath, reckoned anecdotally, that he hears of no less than 10 instances of snakebite yearly. “The Cuttack Drainage Division gets a huge sum to clear the weeds but they don’t put much effort into it. Rather they siphon off a huge amount of money. Groups of villagers have been clearing some patches of the river from time to time, but the weeds regrow soon,” mentioned Ratikanta Patnaik (48), a villager of Praharajpur.

Riparian neighborhood members devising methods throughout a gathering at Bodhapur village to revive river Sukapaika in April this yr. (Image: Roshan Rath)

Raising issues over the expansion of hyacinths on the river mattress, Prasad Okay Dash, a scientist of Odisha Biodiversity Board, mentioned these invasive species are an indicator of dangerous ecological well being. Hyacinths create a conducive surroundings for the expansion of illness pathogens, bugs and mosquitoes by obstructing daylight that’s important for aquatic life. He maintained that it’s troublesome to eliminate the weeds and freshwater move could show helpful.

Dr Ashok Okay Satpathy, a paediatrics specialist at a rural coaching centre of the Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) at Kalarabanka, which lies on the financial institution of Sukapaika, mentioned, “The number of patients affected by various skin and vector-borne diseases such as scabies, malaria and dengue has gone up since the river died.” He attributed the rationale to the unhygienic situation created by the hyacinths.

Meanwhile, encroachments unfold

As these multi-faceted ripple results had been unfolding, encroachment was rising alongside the river.

“Unscrupulous people have erected brick kilns, developed ponds and other structures including houses on the riverbed,” mentioned Sajid Ali (48) of Praharajpur. “Many people have even acquired 99-year lease pattas through illegal means.” The patta land on the river would quantity to greater than 500 acres alongside the complete size of the river, he added. Activists and journalists who’ve tried to determine the character and extent of those encroachments have been met with silence.

RTI activist Prashant Pradhan, a local of riparian Kamarpada village in Dharina panchayat, had utilized to the Kishan Nagar tahsildar underneath the Right to Information Act in 2003 after which once more in 2010 concerning the authorized standing of those leases. However, he’s but to get any response. Sushant Jena, a correspondent of a vernacular day by day, had additionally sought to know the encroachment standing on the Sukapaika river mattress underneath the RTI in 2019 after which just lately in June 2021. He additionally hasn’t heard again.

If this evasion is any indicator, the Sukapaika Bachao Abhiyan (SBA) has its work lower out for them.

The embankment that separates River Sukapaika from its guardian river Mahanadi at its origin at Ayatpur. (Image: Roshan Rath)

SBA was born in 2016 underneath the management of Dr Rath and was an try and convey collectively the affected communities. The group gained momentum in 2019 and presently, greater than 10,000 farmers, fisherfolk, docs, engineers, advocates, educationists, are its members, mentioned Dr Rath.

In January 2020, over 8,000 villagers signed a petition asking to assemble a sluice gate close to Ayatpur to restart the move of the river; this was submitted to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, mentioned Sisir Das (65), a senior advocate and the authorized advisor of the SBA, who resides within the riparian village of Praharajpur.

They moved the State Human Rights Commission in August 2020, citing the drastic impacts on the well being and livelihood of round 10 lakh individuals. They had additionally moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in January 2021 underneath Sections 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the NGT Act, 2010 interesting the tribunal to direct the Govt of Odisha to reopen the river mouth, in keeping with Sisir.

In January 2021, a staff of officers from the Revenue and Water Resources Departments, led by district collector Bhabani Shankar Chayini, visited the river in its 27km stretch – from its origin until the river joins the guardian river Mahanadi – to take inventory of the scenario. Chayini directed the involved income authorities to take instant steps to clear the encroachments. The SBA additionally moved the Water Resource Department Secretary Anu Garg in February 2021, following which, the division officers visited the river and ready an motion plan of Rs 44 crore for its revival, identified Rath.

In a evaluation assembly presided over by Cuttack MP Bhartuhari Mahatab on July 2 this yr, Chayini had directed the Water Resources Department to organize an in depth mission report to hold the revival plan ahead.

While the Cuttack district collector and the involved engineer couldn’t be contacted for his or her tackle the difficulty, these combating for the river know that clearing the encroachments goes to be the federal government’s greatest problem. According to Dr Rath, many individuals have obtained pattas on the river mattress by greasing the palms of some officers.

Ironically, an alleged case of encroachment could have occurred in Rath’s personal yard. A pond was constructed at Bodhapur village in the course of river Sukapaika in 2019 at an expenditure of Rs 16 lakh. According to Dr Rath, whereas the pond is of immense profit to the individuals, its development on the river mattress is prohibited and has been executed with out the permission of the Revenue Department.

Bodhapur Sarpanch Chagala Behera, nevertheless, maintained that the pond has not been constructed on the river mattress, however on the river financial institution on unused authorities land demarcated by the tehsildar. It’s not unlawful and is the only supply of water for the individuals and animals within the village, particularly in the course of the harsh summers, he mentioned. He added that the panchayat goes to lease out the pond for fish farming quickly.

The SBA and different neighborhood members are cautiously optimistic to see their efforts beginning to transfer some items on the board, however they’re conscious it’s going to be a troublesome struggle and near dwelling. The villagers have warned that they’ll take to the streets if the federal government fails to revive the river with instant impact. They have already misplaced an excessive amount of.

(The creator is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India community of grassroots reporters.)

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