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Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das 

Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.
Natural calamities hit the state hard. The frequency and intensity of the natural calamities has increased over the years. The revenue and disaster management minister of Odisha, Mr Sudam Marandi has reportedly said more than 16,000 people have died in the state due to various disasters in the past five years. Drowning, snakebites, and lightning strikes kill a large number of people in the state. In the last two years, 1,336 people died from snakebites and 424 died from lightning strikes. As per government data, in ten years from 2011-12 to 2019-2020, as many as 3,218 died of lightning.  
The state government spends money on giving financial assistance to the victims’ families. It has built a state of the art mechanism to manage disasters and reduce the casualties. In disaster prone belts, cyclone shelters have been constructed for people. But the state government has to do more and understand the root cause of the natural calamities.
The state can’t stop natural calamities but it can reduce the impact of natural calamities. The government should restore the native tree lair and forest in the coastal belt which once worked as a protective shield against cyclones.  
As the forest and tree cover has become thin these areas have become vulnerable to cyclone impact. The damage due to cyclones is more due to deforestation; people lose their livelihood and migrate to urban centers; they lead a precarious life due to lack of skills and education to earn a decent living in urban centers. 
Pollution, aggressive construction activities on the flood plain and on the estuary of the rivers make many rivers sick and lose their fish stock.  Over the years the Mahanadi delta which served as the food bowl of Odisha, has lost much of its productivity. Odisha is going Tamil Nadu way. 
The eight Cauvery delta region districts in Tamil Nadu grow 45.4 percent of Tamil Nadu’s total paddy yield; the deltas are the major food suppliers of the state. Over the years unregulated sand mining, pollutant industries and aggressive construction activities on the Cauvery river’s floodplain and estuary has made the river terminally sick. Politics over the river water has worsened the situation. Over decades, Tamil Nadu has witnessed large scale migration of poor and middle class people to other states and to big cities.    
Low farmers’ income and unemployment in Odisha can be attributed to lack of sufficient water for growing multiple crops. High input cost, money lending activities through groups and individuals, lack of transparent marketing facilities, loss of crop diversity, growing idle energy, lack of political will to depoliticize the co-operative societies and lack of accurate ground level data etc. add to the state’s woe. 
The natural sector economy of each district of Odisha is more productive than any other economic sector; the value addition is very high. But, tapping this huge potential needs deep knowledge, courage, dedicated research, accurate survey and a vision.  The state of Odisha has immense tourism and pilgrim potential which can generate employment. 
There are reported incidents of idol thefts in many ancient temples; unless the government takes very strong action, the idol thieves will ruin the state’s pilgrim sector completely. The archeological importance of the temples in the state should be kept intact while doing renovation work. The original look of the ancient temples is the real attraction for the tourists, historians and researchers. Safety and clean environment with basic amenities boost the pilgrim sector.  
Over the years Mahanadi delta which served as food bowl of Odisha, has lost much of its productivity. Odisha is going Tamil Nadu way
The state government should not build new concrete structures near the ancient temples. It should ensure a safe environment in pilgrim places; quality local food, cleanliness, spiritual environment, greenery and clean drinking water are the basic requirements of a pilgrim center. Fifty years back, the state of Odisha had more than 100 handicraft traditions which have been reduced to less than 50 now. 
Tourists love to buy quality handicrafts in pilgrim centers; efforts should be made to open handicraft shops and local food stalls in pilgrim centers. The handicraft sector in Odisha has immense potential to generate employment but the environment which inspires creativity should be restored.
The green hills, forest and wildlife can attract a large number of tourists and generate employment. The local newspapers have reported the deaths of tigers, elephants, panthers and other animals in large numbers. The skins, bones and nails of tigers are being recovered from many places in Odisha. Hundreds of elephants have been killed or poisoned in the last few years in Odisha; the state should protect its rich flora and fauna to attract tourists.
The crime rate in the state has increased. It has made life difficult even in the capital city of Bhubaneswar. Criminals from other states make Odisha their area of operation; they harass local people, steal and rob people in broad daylight. The state needs to curb the criminal activities for growth and productivity. 
There is a dearth of quality human resources in the state to manage the economy and governance mechanism. There is an urgent need for a state of the art project monitoring mechanism which should not include people who sanction the projects. The state should inculcate discipline, moral and physical courage in the minds of children right from school level.  

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