Fishing jetty docked

ENVIRONMENTAL groups in the country took resort to the law after the Union ministry of environment and forests (MEF) failed to prevent the Orissa government from going ahead with the controversial fishing jetty project at Talchua in the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary. Recently, in response to a petition by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the Orissa high court directed the state not to commission the jetty till October 31 and to immediately constitute an environment impact assessment study group on the sanctuary.

WWF has also decided to file a petition questioning mef's inability to take action against the Biju Patnaik government under the existing laws. It has sought a halt to construction activities and prawn farming on encroached land within and around the sanctuary.

Environmentalists say that the project will harm the unique ecosystem of the mangrove forests of Bhitarkanika, which is the world's largest nesting ground of Olive Ridley turtles. Fishing activity and the movement of trawlers in the area would destroy their habitat, they contend.

To prevent such a disaster, MEF had earlier directed the state government to stop construction of the jetty with immediate effect, following an official assessment of the possible impact of such development work on the mangrove forests' ecology. The state government, however, decided to carry on regardless. Helpless MEF officials say, "This is not a case of a private polluting unit which can be served with a notice of closure. The Union ministry can put pressure on the state government only upto a point. Beyond that, it is not politically viable."

The Biju Patnaik government has, meanwhile, declared war against MEF by defying all environmental laws. It even hopes to pass a resolution in the monsoon session denotifying a large area of the sanctuary. Projects have already sprouted in the area. About 6,075 ha of the sanctuary have been encroached upon by prawn farmers. There is a fishing harbour about 5 km from the jetty site and a huge commercial fishing complex has been planned in the sanctuary's buffer zone. Also, in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, a metalled road is being built through the sanctuary. To top it all, forests are being cleared to settle Bangladeshi refugees.

The state government is, however, not willing to brook any opposition. When the divisional forest officer of Rajanagar, S K Chaddha, contended that the state government had not obtained the requisite permission under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and warned the concerned departments that their equipment would be seized and personnel arrested if construction was not stopped immediately, he was transferred.