Orissa HC orders immediate satellite proofing of illegal prawn enclosures in Kendrapara

The case pertains to the issue of ‘gheries’ that have flourished around eco-sensitive areas such as the Chilika Lake and the Bhitarkanika National Park.

The Orissa High Court has directed the immediate satellite proofing of illegal aquaculture, which is considered detrimental to wetland ecosystem, being taken up around Bhitarkanika in Kendrapara district.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice B. P. Routray has directed that it would hear the matter in a special sitting on August 14.

The case pertains to the issue of illegal prawn enclosures (‘gheries’) that have flourished around eco-sensitive areas such as the Chilika Lake and the Bhitarkanika National Park.

Prawn culture is one of the biggest foreign exchange earning activities after mining in Odisha. Powerful politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are said to operate the activities from behind the scene.

On April 3, 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Chief Justice of High Courts in 15 States to take up the issue of conservation of important wetlands, about 26 such water-bodies in the country. Illegal prawn ‘gheries’ are the ones those choke wetlands.

Accordingly, the Orissa High Court had registered a suo motu public interest litigation petition for restoration of two wetlands — Chilika Lake surrounded by areas of Puri, Khordha, Ganjam districts and Bhitarkanika in Kendrapara district. Mohit Agarwal, a lawyer, was appointed as amicus curiae in the matter.

“The amicus curiae points out that the satellite verification in Kendrapara district has still not been undertaken despite the directions issued by this court on May 31, 2021. The Collector, Kendrapara, is once again directed to report compliance of the above direction by the next date,” the High Court Bench said on July 27.

Mr. Agarwal said, “the satellite verification has exposed the misrepresentation by district administrations about presence of illegal prawn culture in their respective jurisdictions. Puri District Collector had reported that the area under illegal prawn culture is 15,827 acres. The satellite verification has the put the area at 25,870 acres. In case of Ganjam, satellite verification shows more area under illegal farming than area mentioned by Collector in his affidavit. ”

“Kendrapara district has reported presence of 391 acres of illegal prawn culture around Bhitarakanika National Park. I am sure the area will be much spread out if it is verified by satellite,” he pointed out.

Threat to mangrove forest

According to amicus curiae, illegal ‘gheries’ are eating up mangrove forest, which plays critical role in preventing storm surge during cyclone, in Kendrapara district.

Moreover, the High Court directed the District Collectors of Puri, Khordha, Ganjam and Kendrapara to ensure the seizure of all the above equipment and any other device which facilitate the operation of illegal ‘gheries’.

The court’s direction came following submission by Mr. Agarwal that unless equipment such as diesel generator sets, aerators, water pipes and electricity wires are seized, the illegal ‘gheries’ would in all likelihood spring up at the same place soon after their removal.

In an earlier hearing, the HC had expressed displeasure that the issue was not receiving the kind of urgent attention that it required and despite the earlier orders of the court not enough was being done to remove the ‘gheries’ over such vast areas in the four districts.

According to the amicus curiae, in order to save Chilika and Bhitarkanika wetlands, it is necessary for lodging criminal cases to prevent the encroachment and pollution activities from recurring, and once the biodiversity of wetlands is destroyed, it cannot be reclaimed. Based on the submission, the Bench had also ordered criminal prosecution against people involved in illegal ‘gheries’.

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