KENDRAPARA: In a major drive against illegal aquaculture, prawn farms spread over a massive 130 acre of forest land in two seaside villages of Mahakalapada block have been demolished by Forest Department for violation of coastal regulation zone norms as well as court directives. The unlawful prawn farms were located in Badatubi and Sanatubi villages under Batighar gram panchayat where Forest sleuths carried out the operation over the last four days.
“All the shrimp farms in the two villages were illegal as they violated Coastal Regulation Zone norms and rulings of the Supreme Court and Orissa High Court,” forest range officer of Mahakalapada, Sahaji Charana Biswal said. The demolition was carried out under police protection. The Forest department plans to go for plantation on the dismantled prawn farms to convert the area into a mangrove forest.
Prawn farm owners release effluent from gherries into nearby rivers and ponds polluting surface as well as groundwater sources used by the villages. These farms also pose a direct threat to mangrove forests. Recently many villagers blamed mushrooming illegal prawn farms and effluent for degradation of their fertile agricultural lands for which we demolished illegal prawn farms, the forest officer said.
According to Mamata Mohapatra, district fisheries officer of Kendrapada, only 729 shrimp farms, covering 1,400 acre area, are registered. “Other shrimp farms are illegal as they violate CRZ and rulings of courts. Farmers cultivating shrimp without registering with Coastal Aquaculture Authority (CAA) are liable for imprisonment for three years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh,” she said.
However, many prawn farmers are up in arms over the administration’s decision to demolish the farms citing dwindling returns from traditional agriculture. “Paddy cultivation is no more profit-making in seaside villages which is why we converted our land into prawn farms and officials have no right to take any action,” said Bharat Mandal, a shrimp farm owner of Badatubi.
Villagers also allege administrative tardiness and say their applications to get permission under CAA to convert their land into shrimp farms are piling up before the district fisheries office. “Many youths lost their jobs in other states due to Covid-19 and converted their land to prawn farms but officials are now dismantling the gherries,” Mandal said.
Since the 1990s, prawn mafia, political party leaders and their henchmen illegally converted large tracts of mangrove cover forest and agricultural land into prawn farms leading to shrinkage in forest cover. Four years back, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change declared 192 villages around Bhitarkanika National Park as Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) to prevent ecological damage caused due to developmental activities. ESZ prohibits shrimp farming within two kilometer from Bhitarkanika for which authorities must demolish all illegal prawn farms, said environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society (GMTMCS) Hemant Kumar Rout.