KENDRAPARA:Bhitarkanika National Park in the district faces major threat from two illegal activities - prawn farming and timber smuggling.
A month back, over 25 acres of land in the park’s periphery were denuded due to wanton felling of trees in mangrove forest by timber mafia. While it poses serious threat to the park’s environment, illegal prawn farming continues unabated threatening the livelihood of villagers in Bhitarkanika.
In gross indifference to environment, the prawn mafia have chopped off hundreds of mangrove and other trees to make way for shrimp farms in the seaside panchayats of Gupti, Iswarapur, Talachua, Rangani and Batighar.
Moreover, the prawn farmers have blocked the flow of river Patasala from Junagadi to Purusottampur village - a distance of about 20 kms - within Bhitarkanika by building embankments. They converted around 5,000 acres of river-side area into shrimp farms.
As the tidal water in the rivers and some creeks is obstructed by farms from flowing into the sea, it is overflowing to crop fields. Unplanned shrimp farming and release of effluents into the farm fields have increased salinity level in the soil, said Sudhanshu Parida, an environmentalist and secretary of district unit of People for Animals.
Girija Mandal (62), a farmer of Talachua village, said, “I used to grow paddy on my two acres of land. In 2012, some persons converted 10 acres of land near my field into prawn farms and started releasing all the effluents into my land. As a result, my land turned barren and is now unfit for raising paddy crop. Hundreds of other farmers have been ruined due to mushrooming of prawn gherris.”
Sources said almost all shrimp farms in Bhitarkanika are illegal as they violate Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms and the directives of Supreme Court and High Court. It is mandatory for shrimp farms to be registered under Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act and Rules, 2005.
But none of the shrimp farms in the national park is registered, Parida said adding that the district administration should take it into account and demolish the unlawful farms.
Divisional Forest Officer of Bhitarkanika National Park, Bimal Prasanna Acharya said, “Nobody will be allowed to convert mangrove forest and block the river for prawn farm. The Forest Department will demolish all the illegal farms in Bhitarkanika soon.”