The river mouth situated close to the Chaumukh village in Balasore district. Photo Credit-The Blink

By-Sonali Singh

Balasore, Dec 25: Odisha is said to have been gifted with immense natural beauty. The long coastline, mountains, greenery and cultural heritage reckons the ancestry of the eastern state. However, with the rapid industrialization many of the natural resources and natural ecosystems are slowing been destructed to pave way for the industries.

While natural resources including forests, mountains and villagers in many districts like Keonjhar, Angul, Talcher and Jharsuguda have been sacrificed for mining and other industrial works, much other natural landscape has also come under the radar. Such activities often spark a debate among the environmentalists on at what cost the development through these industries is planning to usher in?

The river mouth situated close to the Chaumukh village in Balasore district. Photo Credit-The Blink

Subarnarekha is a perfect example on how a picturesque piece of land at Chamukh village in the Balasore district is going to be gifted by the government for port activities. One unique virtue about this village is its prime location midway to the river mouth.

The village has been guarded at two sides from the Subarnarekha River and one the other side it has been exposed to the Bay of Bengal. The port developer’s eyes on the area thinking this could be the best place to come up with a port. However the District Administration as well as the Port Developers is reiterating adequate rehabilitation, tension has gripped among the villagers about their likely outcome after the port is constructed.

As per media reports, the port developer- Subarnarekha Port Trust is all set to start working for the construction of the port from January 2020. Foundation works for the same like felling of trees along the village to pave way for a wider road and construction of the main road connecting the village and the National Highway have already been going on in full swing.

The periphery of the village surrounded by Subarnarekha River. Photo Credit-The Blink

The village is a large habitation comprising farmers, beetle vine  growers, fishermen, women working on fish processing, production of dry fishing and others. Many fishermen venture deeper into the sea with their boats to catch their prize catch at regular intervals.

Many of them now believe that their livelihood would be at stake with the port construction. “Many of the farmers and villagers here are fumed with the project. We are totally against this project. Many of us are dependent on agriculture along the river coast. Farmers are all set to lose their farming land and it is sure that with the passage of time villagers will be displayed for their expansion of port activities and allied industrial works,” said Subhash Choudhury, a sexagenarian villager from Choumukh.

Many also claim that a decade back the Gram Sabha resolution was taken by force by the District Administration by imposing Section 144. “It was a forged and forced exercise. Section 144 was imposed in our village to get the forced consent of the villagers. People were beaten and when brought from hospital to sign documents,” said Sraban Kumar, a resident of the village.

The women folks from the fishermen families engaged in fish processing. Photo Credit-The Blink

Another resident and a fishermen showed the long stretch of the rocky platform where family members of fishermen dry their fish to sell the dried fish in the market. The fishermen community who live closely at the river bank are now baffled.

“We are tensed as we totally depend on the river and sea for our survival. If a port comes and we lose our rights to fishing in these area, we will be hit badly economically. We will not only our livelihood but our houses constructed close to the port side will also be threatened,” said a fishermen requesting anonymity.

Many claim that after the port comes into effect, regular movement of trucks carrying industrial wastes and products will add to the pollution levels of the village which is otherwise existing in a natural ecosystem. Many believe that the village will meet the fate of Talcher and Angul and other industrial areas which report bad roads, higher air and water pollution due to industrialization.

However the port authorities and District Collector claim that adequate compensation will be paid to the aggrieved villagers and their woes will be addressed sympathetically as per some media reports.

It will be worth watching from January this year on how the villagers react when the plant comes up and also how the district administration and port developer deals with the environmental issues. The port construction is one of the ambitious plan of the government to construction more minor ports in the state to given an impetus to the transport of cargo from the water ways.

The Union Ministry of Shipping on the other hand is also working hard to on their ambitious plan of Sagarmala Project where it has planned to transport surplus materials from the state like coal, steel and other raw materials to all the southern states situation along the Indian Coastline besides reaching to the western parts of the country through the coastline upto Gujarat.

In some of the media interactions, Union Shipping Minister has claimed that transportation of cargo from sea way is far cheaper than as transported from the roadways or railways.

(Sonali Singh is a news intern with The Blink)

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