Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Aug 24:
Even as the Odisha government is busy examining a master plan prepared to promote Chilika Lake as an international tourism hub, scores of local fishermen dependent on Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon are protesting the move apprehending a threat to their livelihood.
The tourism master plan for the Chilika lake and its catchment area was prepared under the World Bank funded Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) and submitted to the state government last month.
“The state government should not go ahead with its plans as it would ruin the beauty of the lake. If the government continues with its plans to develop Chilika as a tourism destination, we would not hesitate to launch an agitation,” fishermen warned.
The local fisher folk claimed that the area of the lake has been shrinking in the recent times. The bio-diversity is depleting and the siltation of the coast is having its impact on the income of the fishermen community.
Almost 60 percent of the lagoon is in the clutches of prawn mafia. They have erected illegal jetties and are looting marine resources worth crores of rupees, they alleged.
The sailor training centre of INS Chilka, the bird sanctuary and the Wetland Research and Training Centre have further narrowed the livelihood prospects of the fishermen. They are the worst hit but, they are not being compensated as a result of which some of the members are forced to move to other states as migrant labourers, the Chilika Matchyajibi Mahasangha alleged.
“The plans to construct hotels and launch boating services for tourists, in the name of tourism development, will only constrict the Chilika lake further. This is a conspiracy to drive out the fishermen from Chilika. It is no more possible to go fishing on a hand propelled boat. So, some of us have fitted engines in the boats with an average cost of Rs 10, 000-Rs15,000 to convert the conventional boats into motor boats. But, the state government has excluded the fishermen with these motorboats from the list of eligibility criteria under Food Security Act (FSA). With this, members of the fishermen community will be deprived of the benefits,” the leader of the association, Muralidhar Behera, said.