Long years ago, Shiva Samantaray, a minister in the kingdom of Narasimha Deva, was given the responsibility to supervise the construction of Konark’s Sun Temple at the confluence of river Chandrabhaga and the sea. He was a worried man as the boat loads of stones meant to build the foundation of the temple were washed away by the sea and he did not know how to fix this. Worried, he aimlessly went around the thick forest where he lost his way. Hungry and clueless he was welcomed by a poor old woman who served him steaming rice pudding. In his hunger and desperation, he burnt his finger when he put it in the middle of the pudding. The old woman chided him and told him he should have eaten from the side rather putting his finger in the middle of the pudding. It was then the penny dropped for the minister.  Next day he ordered that all the stones should be put in the periphery of the river and not in the middle of the sea. That way the foundation could be laid.

Interestingly, Orissa’s ministers and administrators that handle Konark re-development as a tourism site have ignored the wisdom given by the old woman, and in the process hurting investments made over the years. Here the challenge is provided by the fishing village or “Nolia”.

Chandrabhaga Nolia bustee is a settlement of about 2000 households of seafaring fisher folk that are mostly from Andhra Pradesh that live right on the sea. A few of the houses boast of being built under “Biju Pucca Ghara” and “Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana” (PMAY). As one takes a lane towards the sea, one would find a writing on the wall – a warning that it is a Tsunami prone area. Here the sea is barely some distance away from thick human habitation.

Apart from a Tsunami threat, the beach is undergoing serious erosion. Anna Rao, 67, of Nolia bastee says that the sea is moving about six inches a year towards the bustee. During the cyclones and high tide, water enters the Nolia bustee. K. Tatil, 40, says that in the last three decades, the sea has advanced about half a kilometre towards the habitation.

The government of Odisha that has earned accolades from the UN agencies for quality disaster response, has taken some bad decisions that have long term implications for the habitat and the people who live in this bustee. About 1091 land pattas have been distributed to the households. The locals are all praise for the Nabin Pattanaik government for the land pattas as well as two lakh rupees for Biju Pucca Ghar-Pradhanmantri Awas Yojana, but they said that as it is tsunami prone area they would have been better had the land been provided a little away from the sea.

A look at the CRZ map suggests that the area where the pattas have been given to the fishing community comes under CRZ III which is 200-500 meters from the high tide line where no development can take place. The big question is how has the Odisha Government invested its scarce resources from JAGA MISSION and the funds from the PMAY at this bustee?

When asked this question, the Tehsildar of Konark Tehsil Shaikh Sagir said “Show me where I have given the land pattas for construction of the house? Is there mention of homestead land? Nowhere it has been mentioned that they will be constructing houses there. If the beneficiaries are constructing houses there, the questions should ask to the District Collector, Odisha Coastal Zone Regulatory Authority, Bhubaneswar and the Konark NAC officials.” The Konark NAC executive officer Satya Prakash Mishra also said, “This is not my duty to look after the matters, about this you ask the Puri Collector and the urban development authorities”.

While the Tehsildar has shaken himself off the responsibility, other officials remain mum. No one uttered the real reason–vote bank politics of Orissa’s ruling party. Hurricane visits by bureaucrats to Konark is also due to the growing size of the porridge, which is now Rs. 46 crores that includes the widening of the marine drive from Konark to Puri and development of the Beach Retreat.

The real issue that is meant to appease voters is the distribution of land under the Odisha Jaga Mission.

While many may dispute the fact whether PMAY aka Biju Pucca Ghara should be constructed in such a vulnerable area or not, the real issue is how will the Union Government respond to it? If the houses go unopposed, the BJD is the obvious winner. If the union government opposes such construction then they can show that they were giving land to the landless but the central government was opposing it. Another troubling issue is that the the pucca houses will make it difficult for those living in Nolia to leave the place even when the region is hit by disasters as this will increase their vulnerability.

The biggest issue is that the land that has been allotted to the beneficiaries in the Nolia bustee on ‘Balibanta’ or sand dunes. Even the primers on environmental sciences make it clear that the sand dunes are the most important line of defense against a marching sea and are surely not the place where the house should be constructed. What compounds this environmental disaster is that these sand dunes that are along the Marine drive have been decimated to provide construction material for widening of the road.

How is it that the land under the Jaga Mission and funds of the PMAY are being wantonly misused for purposes that endangers the marine lives including Nolias? Albeit the political party leaders are indulging in their self-political interests but how is it that the concerned bureaucrats and administrative machineries openly provided all the chains including consent for the land as well as for housing and flouting all rules, laws and regulations? How is it that the ruling dispensation at the Centre continues to provide funds under the PMAY despite the fact that it is violating all the existing laws of CRZ and why is the Odisha BJP is mute on this? It is well known that recently there was a massive hue and cry in the Assembly budget session regarding the corruption in the Jaga Mission.

Photos Credit: Hardnewsmedia/Bibhuti Pati

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Long years ago, Shiva Samantaray, a minister in the kingdom […]
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