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WIO concerned over lack of progress on law to conserve water bodies in Odisha

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Sambalpur, September 1:

With barely a month left for the Odisha government to comply with the October 11, 2012 directive to formulate a strong law to protect and preserve water bodies in the state within two year, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) has expressed serious concern over the lack of any steps in this regard by the government.

Photo Courtesy: thehindu.com
Photo Courtesy: thehindu.com

“The deadline is about to be over and we don’t see any sign of such a law being formulated in the state.  This is a serious concern and must be addressed immediately if the state government respects the High Court judgement,” said Ranjan Panda, Convenor of WIO, the leading water rights body in the state.

Citing the Supreme Court judgment of 2011 on the same issue, WIO urged the state government to immediately comply with the High Court order and come out with a stringent law to protect all water bodies of the state without waiting for the two years’ deadline to be over.

On January 28, 2011, the apex court, in a historic judgement, had directed all the State Governments of the country to prepare schemes for eviction of illegal/unauthorized occupants of Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat/ Poramboke/ Shamlat land saying these must be restored to the Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat for the common use of villagers of the village.   The Apex Court had directed the Chief Secretaries of all State Governments/Union Territories to take steps in this regard and submit a compliance report by May 3, 2011.

Ranjan Panda, Convenor, WIO
Ranjan Panda, Convenor, WIO

“We are not sure whether the Govt. of Odisha complied with that order or not.  Nothing has been put up in public domain for the common people to know about this,” Panda said. 

WIO regretted the fact that despite these two ‘historic orders’, no positive steps had been taken by the state government in the matter so far.

“What we can see from ground realities is that more and more water bodies are being encroached upon by the rich and powerful both in urban and rural areas.  Just a couple of months ago, we had pointed out how a vital urban water body in Sambalpur city was being filled with the carcinogenic fly ash from nearby coal fired thermal power plants all in the name of extending a children’s park.  We opposed the move and had asked the Sambalpur Development Authorities to stop the work.  The work has stopped but the fly ash still remains there and the pond stands shrunk.  Similar is the fate of most of the water bodies in the state. While many have been killed for real estate and other purposes, many others are being used as garbage pits,” the activist pointed out.

Emphasising the vital role that surface water bodies play in retaining rainwater and recharging local ecology, WIO urged the government to immediately declare a Plan of Action to free all water bodies of state from all forms of encroachment.

“Most importantly, let this plan be made with involvement of all sections of the society and all information be made available to public in a transparent manner,” said Panda.