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Deforestation, mining, poaching, urban growth: Odisha 'axing its own leg'

By Sudhansu R Das 

The heat wave in Odisha is increasing every year due to loss of forest cover and the green trees in urban and rural areas. It has made human survival difficult.  It adversely affects the socio-cultural and economic environment; it reduces productivity hours, devastates the livelihood of people. 
The heat induced short cyclone (Kala Baisakhi) destroys crops, damages houses and the economic assets of people. The severity has affected nearly 73% females and 62% males in the state, revealed a sample survey on the impact of heat waves among people. Headache, dizziness, nausea, and heat rash are some of the commonly noticed health issues as reported by the respondents in Odisha. 
Extreme summer heat in Odisha is manmade and is the result of implementation of an imbalanced economic growth model which does not give value to economic activities which are enshrined in nature.
Forest works as a protective shield against cyclones in Odisha. Frequent cyclones devastate life, livelihood, economy, social and cultural life in the once prosperous coastal districts of the state.  
Forest is the hub of many vibrant economic activities. It provides eco-friendly raw material to tribal artisans to add incredibly high value to the organic substances. Over centuries the tribes of Odisha have been making a variety of hand crafted utility and decorative items which have a good demand in India and abroad. 
Strong leaders, honest and efficient government officials, bankers, extension officers, good governance and deeper understanding of handicraft traditions etc can let skilled tribal artisans contribute immensely to the economic growth of the state.  
The biggest challenge before the state is to ensure that the officials of the handicraft promoting agencies in the state should not become middlemen and traders in disguise. This will wipe out the rich handicraft and weaving traditions from the state; the enthusiasm of the artisans should continue. 
Political leaders, media, honest officials, intellectuals, volunteers of the left and rightist organizations and the Ram Bhaktas etc should prove that they have concern and responsibility for the tribal artisans and weavers in the state.  
The immense handicraft skills of the tribe can earn huge foreign currency for the state. The state should encourage its people to use biodegradable handicraft items for a cool summer.
The deaths of a large number of wild animals speak volumes of the tragic state of forests in Odisha.  As reported, Odisha is gradually turning into a graveyard for elephants with 698 elephants and eight tigers having perished in the state in the past eight years, which works out to an annual average of 87.  
Deforestation, mining, poaching activities, urban growth, lack of dedicated monitoring, absence of adequate number of committed staff, lack of awareness among people, lack of political will and lack of a long term plan to protect forest wealth rip apart the forest economy of the state.  Odisha is axing its own leg which will cripple its economy.  
Odisha blurs the prospect of developing wildlife tourism, adventure tourism and fails to tap the benefit of a cool climate.  It loses hundreds of precious minor forest products and a wide range of medicinal plants due to destruction of forest. 
Forest fires continue to wreak havoc in the state.  Odisha has recorded 642 large fire incidents from March 2-9, 2023 — the highest in the country during the period, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data.  Odisha has recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022, a national record for the season. The real culprit behind the forest fire is still at large. 
The forest wealth of Odisha, if preserved, can earn more profit than the mining sector and it becomes a sustainable economic model for the entire country which will reduce the influence of Maoists over the innocent tribal. 
In order to achieve this, the state has to weed out the inefficient officers from the scene; Chief Minister Naveen Pattanaik should identify the officers who misguide and misinform him about the development in the state.
Eleven major river basins covering a total area of 1,55,707 sq km was once the food bowl of Odisha. As the rivers are getting polluted fast due to mining, industries and urban growth, the food bowl of Odisha is going to disappear soon. 
Odisha turning into a graveyard for elephants with 698 elephants and eight tigers having perished in the state in the past eight years
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India pointed out that almost all rivers in Odisha are fed with huge waste from industries as well as urban local bodies. 
Brahmani, the second major river in Odisha, which is the life line of 51.11 lakh population, has come under increasing pressure due to discharge of domestic waste of urban centres such as Rourkela, Angul and Talcher and the in-flow of untreated water from chromite mines in Sukinda Valley of Jajpur district. Surveys have noted more than 80% deaths in heavily mined areas are caused by chromite-related diseases. 
Odisha has been ranked as the fourth most polluted place in the world in a report though the report is not accepted by the state government. This high level of degradation is due to the heavy tapping of mineral resources from a dozen open cast mines in the area over 70 years. 
Interestingly the revenue collected from mining is spent for developing expensive water ways on polluted river streams instead of cleaning the rivers and making it useful for human beings. 
How to use the revenue effectively and transparently for sustainable development is the biggest challenge before the state. The state needs to develop knowledge capital among leaders and officials who can understand what is good for the state after doing painstaking research and surveys.
Economic growth is meaningless if it gives people sufferings and makes a handful of rich people richer.  Growth has no meaning if it does not create opportunities for people to earn from sustainable economic activities, and live with self respect instead of waiting for government’s aids and freebies.   
Growth is meaningless if the revenue is converted into populist programs and is spent on unnecessary mega projects which seldom help inclusive growth.  Growth is meaningless if it makes people feel they are poor and incapable of earning in a state which is abound with multiple economic sectors. 
Growth has no meaning if its benefits create massive idle energy among the youth; aimless distribution of freebies builds the idle energy. If growth pushes the state into indebtedness it should be reviewed; the debt burden of Odisha has increased phenomenally. 
People of Odisha deserve the right environment to support the economic activities which are sustainable.  The state should restore the forest, native tree lairs and revive the water bodies.  
Open space, community playgrounds and buffer forest zones near cities should be protected so that the summer heat will not erode the productivity of people. 

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