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Fear over River Water Diversion to Industries Sparks Protests in Odisha’s Kendrapara

Odisha government says the project is solely for the purpose of supplying drinking water while activists and political leaders allege it would divert river water for industrial use.

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New Delhi: Over the past few months, numerous public protests have rocked Kendrapara in Odisha – from Jal Satyagrahas to human chains – against a state government project to divert water from Kharasrota river in the district and provide it to the adjoining Bhadrak district for drinking purposes.

Local residents and activists have been protesting against the project under the banner of Kharasrota Banchao Sangharsh Samiti, which has also been actively supported by the leaders of opposition political parties. It has also been alleged that large quantities of water diverted from the river will presumably be diverted for industrial use in and around Dhamra Sea Port in Bhadrak district. The state government has, however, vehemently denied this allegation.

“Much more water is being sought to be diverted from Kharasrota than is required for average daily consumption of the targeted beneficiaries in four blocks of Bhadrak district for which the project has been envisaged,” said Devendra Sharma, former Congress MLA from the Aul Assembly constituency in Kendrapara district. “We presume the state government plans to provide free water to industries in Bhadrak under the garb of a drinking water project. Industries near the Dhamra Port can use sea water, but they are reluctant to set up saline water treatment plants since it will eat into their profits,” he claimed.

The Kharasrota is a tributary branching off the Brahmani River near Jenapur in Jajpur district, which is adjoining to Kendrapara. The tributary merges with the main river, after travelling through Kendrapara district, just a few kilometres ahead of its mouth in the Bay of Bengal.

“Why doesn’t the state government construct a barrage across the Kharasrota in Kendrapara for use of the local population before diverting any of the water into Bhadrak? Otherwise, any diversion will end up in water scarcity for Kendrapara. Every summer the water flow recedes in Kharasrota,” added Sharma who has been actively leading the protests with other political leaders.

The drinking water project has been undertaken by the Naveen Pattnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) state government at a cost of approximately Rs 754 crore. Through this project, water from the Kharasrota will be tapped at Rajkanika block of Kendrapara and will be transported through a pipeline to cater to the needs of a population of 6.16 lakhs (as per 2011 census) in four blocks of Bhadrak. A maximum quantity of 86 million liters per day (MLD) water will be diverted from Kendrapara in the ultimate design year of the project, that is, the year 2050. The maximum capacity of the water treatment plant being set up in Bhadrak is 106 MLD. The project has been designed to provide 85 liters per capita per day (lpcd) of water to the targeted population.

“Diversion of water from Kharasrota will adversely impact agriculture and fishing activities in Kendrapara. Earlier Kharasrota used to cause floods in Kendrapara district. However, the flow of water to Kendrapara was restricted by construction of a dam across the main river Brahmani, in Rengali in Anugul district,” Bidhan Das, a local resident, told the Newsclick. He added, “If such massive quantity of water is diverted from Kharasrota, it will result in salinity in the river. In 1969, the state government had committed to construct irrigation canals from Kharasrota for farming purposes in Kendrapara. How can the government go ahead with diverting water for another district when it has not fulfilled a promise made more than 50 years ago?”

Eminent Odisha-based activists, including Prafulla Samantara who is a Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, have lent their support to the protests in Kendrapara.

A local leader from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party had also filed a petition against the project in the National Green Tribunal in May 2020 alleging various environmental damages that would result from the execution of the project. It was alleged that the Bhitarkanika National Park, a Ramsar site (wetland designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention) in Kendrapara known as the habitat of estuarine crocodiles, will be adversely affected since it is totally dependent on the Kharasrota for fresh water.

The tribunal formed a fact-finding panel comprising officials of the water resources and forest department of Odisha. The panel’s report said that the concerns expressed “appear to be unfounded as all relevant factors pointed out by the Applicant [Sanjay Kumar Behura] have been taken into consideration while undertaking the project”. The tribunal dismissed the petition in November on the basis of the panel’s report.

Odisha-based water and environmental activist Ranjan Panda said, “The apprehension that the project will lead to water shortage in Kharasrota is true for almost all rivers in India. It is always wise, therefore, to go for multiple sources of water rather than a single source for drinking purposes. The government should have conducted a transparent feasibility assessment study by taking local residents into confidence before embarking on this project.”

No Environmental Clearance has been sought for the project as the pipeline has a length of only 15.5 km from the source to destination. As per environmental laws extant in the country, linear projects like a pipeline do not need Environmental Clearances if they are less than 100 kilometres in length. However, the state government has conducted an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Study for the project through IIT-Hyderabad, which also included public consultations.

An email sent on behalf of NewsClick to the Hyderabad-based project contractor, Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited, querying about concerns raised by the locals in Kendrapara is yet to elicit any response.

When contacted, the district administration of Kendrapara said that the entire quantity of water diverted from Kharasrota is solely for the purpose of meeting drinking water needs and “not a drop of it” will be diverted for any other use. Officials said that the proposal for construction of a barrage at the source of the pipeline in Kendrapara is actively under consideration of the state government.

“Water for the project will be drawn from an intake well in Rajkanika block of Kendrapara. The total capacity of the water treatment plant itself is 106 MLD, which is only 4% of the total flow in the river during the lean season,” Kendrapara District Magistrate, Samarth Verma, told the NewsClick. “A detailed baseline survey of social, cultural and environmental impact of the project has been carried out through an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Study. As per its report, no significant adverse environmental, social, or cultural impacts will result from the project. The administration has consulted all stakeholders on multiple occasions and attempted to dispel misplaced notions about the project that have no scientific basis at all,” he said.

The quantity of 85 lpcd of drinking water for the targeted beneficiaries is as per the maximum capacity at which the project can operate, said officials. Besides, the state government has envisaged a separate drinking water project for Aul and Rajkanika blocks for which a sum of Rs 268.11 crore has already been sanctioned.

Kendrapara is a politically sensitive Lok Sabha constituency in Odisha. In the Lok Sabha elections held last year in Kendrapara, Odia actor-politician Anubhav Mohanty of the ruling BJD had trounced businessman-politician Baijayant Panda, the sitting MP at that time, who had contested on a BJP ticket after his fallout with Odisha chief minister Naveen Pattnaik.

Despite repeated calls and text messages enquiring about the mass protests in his constituency, Anubhav Mohanty was not available for comments.

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