Orissa government remains unconcerned
WHILE international agencies and the Union government have shown much concern for the protection and sustainable management of Chilika, the Orissa government's response has been surprisingly lacklustre.
It was at the 1971 convention on wetlands, held at Ramsar in Iran, that attention was drawn to protection of the lake. India signed conventions in 1981 and 1982, and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote to the Orissa government to ensure the health of this precious ecosystem. Ironically, it was about then that the state government decided to encourage brackish-water culture.
The Asian Wetlands Bureau pointed out in 1989 that Chilika was under "moderate to severe threat" and stressed the need to develop a management strategy that would ensure "sustainable utilisation", as the wetland had high "economic and social values" and its exploitation should be consistent with its ecological character.
An action plan drawn up in Karachi in December 1991 for the conservation of wetlands in South Asia and West Asia suggested the Indian government should review and report to the Ramsar bureau on the potential impact of projects under design for the management of Chilika. It also suggested that international or local agencies should be encouraged to provide technical advice to the Orissa department of environment to assist in designing a management plan for the lake.
As a result of these pressures, a state-level steering committee was set up in 1990 to monitor the management of the lake. The panel, though headed by the state chief secretary, has not met even once since it was formed. Chief secretary Radha Kant Rath explained, "Well, the steering committee never really got off."
After the Karachi meeting, the National Committee on Wetlands recommended formation of another body and the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) was set up in January this year with the chief minister as its chairperson. But the CDA, too, has not met since its formation. Asked why, the CDA secretary replied, "Actually, we have all been very busy, but we will soon have a meeting though the date has not been finalised yet."