CUTTACK: In what could come as a huge jolt to the BJD government's much-hyped Baliyatra Riverfront Improvement (BARFI) project that envisages reclamation of land from the Mahanadi river bed from Jobra Barrage to Gadgadia Ghat, Union Minister of State for Water Resources and Tribal Welfare Bisweswar Tudu on Sunday termed the move as illegal.
Tudu, who inspected the area from Jobra Barrage to Gadagadia Ghat, expressed displeasure over filling up the river bed with sand and shoal. Stating that filling up of the river bed is illegal, he assured to convene a meeting to discuss the matter with the State Secretary of Water Resources department soon. A team of advocates which accompanied him during the inspection will be invited to the meeting, he said.
The Minister was in the city to participate in the 'Namami Gange' programme organised by the local BJP unit. He inspected the river bed after a team of lawyers led by advocate Pradip Pattnaik submitted a petition alleging the State government violated the order of the Orissa High Court by encroaching the Mahanadi river.
In the petition, Pattnaik said the State government had decided to supply water to Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) and leased out a portion of shoal pit (a small island) within the water area of Mahanadi for the purpose. A PIL was filed in Orissa High Court in 2011 with a prayer to save the Mahanadi Barrage and supply water from the river only to farmers for irrigation purpose as the water retaining capacity of the barrage was not sufficient to cater to other requirements.
Hearing the PIL, the High Court on February 27, 2012 had directed the IOCL and State government to take steps to enhance the water retaining capacity of barrage by dredging the reservoir area which would be viable for catering to the requirement of irrigation, drinking water and also industrial purpose.
As per the direction, the IOCL had deposited Rs 300 crore with State government which had undertaken the dredging work in 2020.
But, surprisingly, instead of shifting the sand and shoal, excavated from the pond area to other places, the authorities deposited the same within the pond area encroaching upon 5 km long and 1.5 km wide river bed from Jobra to Gadagadia Ghat and creating a new island of around 600 acre of land. The move has reduced the water retaining capacity of the barrage, alleged Pattnaik in his petition.
"The judgment of Orissa High Court has been defied and defaced and the purpose for enhancing the water retaining capacity of Jobra Barrage has been sabotaged resulting in inadequate supply of water in canals like Taladanda, Kendrapara, Pattamundai, Machhagaon and high level canals. This has affected 50 lakh farmers of Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur and Jajpur districts," the petition alleged.
The State government has reclaimed 600 acre land from Mahanadi river bed under the BARFI project in order to lease it out for construction of office buildings, hotels, hospital, amusement zones, etc.
Squeezing the river bed will not only reduce water retaining capacity but also have disastrous impact on the city and low-lying upstream areas which would experience high floods due to the obstruction caused by the chocking of the barrage reservoir. The petitioners sought immediate action to stop filling of the river bed and restore it to its original form.