KENDRAPARA: The Bhitarkanika National Park and Revenue Department authorities have demolished unauthorized prawn dykes and reclaimed nearly 55 hectares of encroached government land lying on the fringe of swampy mangrove forest in Odisha's Kendrapara district, officials said.
These plots were under the unauthorized occupation of prawn farmers.
The erection of prawn dykes was unlawful as these plots had spilled into prohibited Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas, they said.
The dyke (ghery) demolition was undertaken along the forest-side patches in Batighar forest block under Mahakalpada tehsil on Wednesday. The gheries were dismantled amid the presence of armed police.
No report of any untoward incident was reported during the exercise, said officials.
"The reclaimed patches are being taken up for mangrove regeneration programme so that prawn farmers would not reoccupy the encroachment-free areas. The mangrove plantation work would begin within a week", said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bikash Chandra Dash.
The reclaimed areas are conducive for mangrove regeneration as there is a regular inflow of tidal waters, he said.
Conceding the fact that similar exercise undertaken in the past has not been entirely successful in checking the mangrove degradation, the forest officials said the eviction drive is being launched in an organised manner this time.
A task force comprising senior and experienced forest protection officials has been constituted.
Public awareness is being generated on the mangrove protection and residents of nearby villages are beginning to realise that mangrove is a time-tested natural barrier against tidal surge and cyclones, they said.
Green activists are, however, of the view that large areas are still under unlawful and environmentally-damaging prawn cultivation.
"Provisions of clauses of Coastal Regulation Zone, environment protection law, and forest conservation act are being contravened.
Besides influential land-grabbers and prawn mafias are infringing Orissa land encroachment act.
"The revenue department is empowered to evict them and institute criminal cases against the encroachers while the forest officials are also empowered to demolish the gheries," said environment activist Biswajit Mohanty.