Since deforestation and loss of mangrove along the coast were believed to be the
reasons of the massive damage caused by the super cyclone, coastal afforestation
and generation of thick mangrove belt were suggested by several experts and
agencies. Reports say, the mangrove cover had come down to less than 190 square
KMs from 500 sq. KMs in a period of four decades from 1960.
Though the Odisha government, under central plan scheme, has taken up programmes
for conservation and management of mangroves at different locations like
Bhitarkanika, Mahanadi delta, Dhamara, Devi-Kadua, Subarnarekha and at places
around Chilika lake, activists working in areas of coastal livelihood and
environment say, the mangrove cover is still very less in the state as compared
to what it was 50 years ago.
Despite significant increase in frequency and severity of cyclone during last
few years with the Odisha coast hit by cyclonic storms like Phailin and Hud Hud,
strong actions for mangrove conservation and regeneration are still awaited from
per newspaper reports, conversion of mangrove forest land into paddy fields and
shrimp farms leads to denudation of mangrove patches in the northern coasts of
Odisha, making mockery of all conservation programmes. It’s also a fact that
mangrove ecosystems in the state have been largely threatened due to increasing
human interference and developmental activities like raising ports and port
Development projects along the coast have not only resulted in loss of mangrove
but have also accelerated coastal erosion at many points. As per national
assessment of shoreline change (NASC) 2011, for Odisha coast, “significant
alteration of the sediment budget by the construction of the ports, river
sediment inflow etc., have had significant effects on the present day
“Erosion (high, medium and low erosion) accounts for 36.8% of the coast,” says
the assessment report suggesting that 8.2% of the coastline experiences high
Despite the fact that thousands of families have been displaced and coastal
economy, mostly agrarian and fisheries based, and ecology affected due to
erosion, the issue has not been given adequate importance.
government has however started a geo-synthetic wall project at Pentha, a high
erosion point in Kendrapada, under the World Bank funded Integrated Coastal Zone
Management Project to restrict further erosion. While the effectivity and other
ecological impacts of the project are yet to be seen, environmental activists
term it as a treatment of the symptom, not the cause.
per the NASC report, “zones of erosion is obvious to the north of ports such as
Gopalpur, Paradip and Anantpur ports and to the south of Dhamra and Astaranga
ports.” As Industrial and infrastructural projects like ports near the coast are
believed to be the reason of accelerated erosion, government’s plan to have 15
ports along the Odisha coast with private investment raises fear of further
erosion and devastating impact on coastal ecology and the turtle breeding sites,
which place Odisha in the world wildlife map.
Mentioning that the Super Cyclone of 1999 completely devastated the entire
coastal ecosystem in the state that, because of its geographical location along
the Bay of Bengal with a 480 kilometres coastline, is regularly exposed to
hydro-meteorological and sea-level related hazards, disaster risk reduction
practitioner Jyotiraj Patra notes in his report “Coasts, Ports and Communities:
The Emerging Dynamics of Investment-Risk Interactions in Odisha, India” that
“investments, mostly around development of infrastructures for ports and
port-related activities, modify and very often reconfigure the entire
social-ecological systems in these biologically diverse but hazard-prone coastal
series of ports planned along the coast, if all realised, is not only going to
affect the coastal ecosystem badly and increase vulnerability to disasters but
also to the forest cover in the state by encouraging mining and related
industrialisation to meet the demands of the ports.
Shrinking carbon sink
“Most of Orissa’s (Odisha was earlier spelt as Orissa) mineral deposits are in
forests that are inhabited by tribal populations and harbour rich biodiversity.
Mineral extraction therefore has disproportionately affected forest ecosystems
and the forest dwelling population,” says a research paper titled “Mine over
matter? Health, wealth, and forests in a mining area of Orissa.” So, forest
cover of the state is largely threatened by mining and mineral based industries
as well as infrastructure projects in forest areas.
Delhi based development journalist and filmmaker Subrat Kumar Sahu writes in his
report “Destroyed by development,” published in the
“Of the 5,813,700 hectares of ‘categorised’ forest area in the state, mineral
reserves have been identified on some 3,500,000 hectares; that’s more than 60%
of the total forest area.” To substantiate, Sahu quotes Orissa’s former steel
and mines minister Raghunath Mohanty as saying, in a June 2009 press release,
“preliminary exploration for mining had already been done on 3,100,000 hectares
per the Odisha economic survey report 2014-15, while proposals covering an area
of 42371.86 hectare of forest land have been approved for non-forest use till
the end of January 2014, mining alone has the share of 18,515.03 hectares in it.
Further, a reply submitted by the union ministry of environment, forest and
climate change in parliament informs that 4516 hectare of forest land have been
diverted for non-forest purpose in the year 2014 only.
Taken together, about 46,900 hectare of forest land have been diverted for
non-forest purposes like mining, related industries and various infrastructure
projects in forest areas. As forests act as the biggest carbon sink, to the
environmental activists, such diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes
is certainly a matter of concern. It’s worth mentioning here that, as per a
2008-09 calculation, the annual carbon gain of the available forests in Odisha
is over 5 million tonne.
though the norm says that “whenever a proposal for diversion of forest land for
non-forestry purpose is approved by Central Government, there is a stipulation
to raise Compensatory Afforestation over equivalent non-forest land or over
twice the degraded forest land,” compensatory afforestation has been raised over
2113.60 hectares only, by the end 2013-14, as per Odisha economic survey
very dense and moderately dense forest areas, which are integral to the
ecosystem, are in a declining trend. As per state of forest reports, the graph
of very dense forest area shows continuous decline and goes like 7077 sq. KM in
2005, 7068 in 2007, 7060 in 2011 and 7042 in 2013. The area of moderately dense
forest also declined from 21,421 sq. KM in 2005 to 21,376 in 2007, 21,366 in
2011 and 21, 298 in 2013. However, open forest area has increased from 20,477 in
2011 to 22,007 sq. KM in 2013, as per survey report.
Citing that the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoEF) fixed targets for
afforestation over 2.15 lakh hectare (ha) in 2011-12, over 1.73 lakh ha in
2012-13 and over 1.72 lakh ha in 2013-14 in order to increase forest and tree
cover as envisaged in National Forest Policy, the CAG report 2014 notes that the
state achieved 85 per cent of the target in the first year while the shortfall
in achievement in subsequent two years has been 38 per cent and 32 per cent
imagine the magnitude of the loss, as one sq. KM is equal to 100 hectares and
one hectare is as big as a cricket ground, defines
New York based software professional and a data journalist.
forest cover in the state is at 32.33% against the national average of 33%, as
per state of forest report 2013, and the primary challenge before the government
is to compensate the lost and degraded forest cover by planting trees in the
open forest areas, CAG report smells corruption in plantation programmes and
points out that, in eight forest divisions, an amount of about 48.86 lakhs
rupees from the plantation fund have instead been diverted to carry out
plantation in areas not suitable for afforestation.
Deforestation and industrialisation have largely contributed to climate change
in Odisha. As a result, the rainfall pattern has changed and extreme weather
days causing cyclonic storms, flash floods, dry spell and drought like situation
have become frequent.
“Out of 1,482 mm rainfall, about 500 mm to 700 mm rainfall takes place within a
span of 3-4 days, which is causing severe flood and drought in subsequent days.
Due to deviation in the pattern of rainfall, and prolonged dry periods in
non-monsoon months, flow in Odisha’s rivers have reduced drastically. Most of
the rivers are lying dry for about two-third of the year,” says Bikash Kumar
Pati in “Water Resources of Odisha – Issues and Challenges,” published by
Bhubaneswar based NGO Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC).
Climate change has threatened the rivers and water sources, which are already
stressed to meet the human consumption, irrigation, industrial and other
“If we look at the pattern of rainfall of Odisha, we can easily feel the
footsteps of climate change. Simply told, rainfall is increasing in areas where
more rainfall is a curse, and decreasing in areas which were already drought
infested and are on the threshold of becoming arid regions,” Pati adds.
“Industrialisation, leading to deforestation, pollution and unusual carbon
emission, has largely impacted the nature as well as the climate,” says Social
and developmental activist Dillip Das of Antodaya, who works closely with the
tribal communities of Kalahandi district.
Citing that deforestation is one of the largest contributors to climate change,
Madhab Chandra Dash, former Chairman of State Pollution Control Board cautions
in his research paper titled “A comparison of industrial greenhouse gas
emissions (GHG) and carbon sink potential of forest vegetation in Orissa, in the
context of climate change” and published in “The Ecoscan,” Odisha emits over 164
million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) whereas GHG neutralization capacity of
the forests in Odisha is less than 154 million tonnes.
emission due to thermal power is about 67% in Odisha followed by Iron & Steel
sectors that has a share of 20%, says the
ENVIS Centre of Odisha’s state of
an environmental think-tank body promoted by the Forest and Environment
department of Odisha.
While urging that proper siting of industries and expansion and conservation of
forest cover should get top priority in the state government development policy
and should be reviewed frequently, Dash projects that the GHG emission in the
state would cross 493 million tonne by 2020 and, so, State’s forest cover, which
acts as a carbon sink and absorbs the Green House Gases (GHGs) generated by
industrial and other activities, may just fall short of coping with the
Communities hold the key
this context, a paper titled “Carbon stocks and fluxes for forests in Odisha
(India),” written jointly by S. C. Sahu, Jagmohan Sharma and N. H. Ravindranath
and published in “Tropical Ecology,” reposes faith on joint management of
forests where the forest department and community institutions at village level,
called Van Samrakshyan Samiti, are engaged in protection, development and
“This process is harmonizing the unregulated usage of forest by addressing
demand-supply situation, and the communities are taking over the role of
planner, manager, user and regulator of the forest resource. This
forest-securing mechanism is likely to be operationalized over remaining forest
areas in Odisha state, which is likely to set up a carbon-conservation regime
that would develop carbon-consciousness in use of forest products and
forestland,” the paper says.
Developmental Policy Analysts believe that community engagement can play a
bigger role in mitigating climate change as they have their own clues to deal
with the issues. “But the problem is that their knowledge is never taken into
count by our scientific community working in the area, which results in a wide
policy gap,” says Vidhya Das of Agragami NGO, who sees a possibility in the
blending of imported knowledge with inherited knowledge of the communities.
“Look at the traditional knowledge system and also try to combine more
ecologically sound practices, which is the cutting edge technology now. There is
conservation agriculture, which is known to sequester carbon into the soil and
cut down carbon emissions; there is agro-ecology which is being practised,” Das
during these years, community rights and role in management of forests have been
curtailed to bring the forest land under government control for industrial and
other commercial uses. In fact, forest and environmental issues are seen as
deterrent to development. Instead, the government should realise the importance
of forest and environment for sustainable development.
Not enough steps taken
Naveen Patnaik government, however, has initiated some unique measures in
direction of carbon sequestration and combating climate change. Odisha is the
first Indian state to implement the Climate Change Action Plan and, also, to
pilot the project for carbon sequestration through micro-algae technology.
innovated ground water recharge model is also under implementation in the state.
Supervised and monitored by the Watershed Development Mission, awareness
activities on the value of rain water and benefits of harvesting it at
subsurface level have been intensified at village and community level.
the energy sector now is the biggest GHG emitter, the government is planning to
bring a renewable energy policy in the state and also to promote domestic
consumption of clean energy.
Environmentalists and advocates of sustainable development look for more
effective planning and programmes for protection of forests and environment as
they have a direct link with life and livelihood of people. And, it’s high time
for action to conserve the ecosystems and save the environment.
What looks apt mentioning here is
views of billionaire politician and activist Michael Bloomberg, the three time
Mayor of New York City, who recently said in an interview to the
Times of India,
“If you don't focus on the environmental quality you will not be able to fix the
economic side. The purpose of government is to help people live longer, happier
lives. Yes, you need jobs, you need a lot of things but to say that you need
those before you need your health -- I would say if you are dying, you might
look back and say that wasn't a good decision.”
[An earlier version of this
piece is published in the review report "15 years of Odisha governance," brought out by
Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA).]