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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Temperature on rise: Summer becoming the Killer Season for Orissa
"Over the last decade, Orissa has been experiencing extreme heat during the summer. Every year, hundreds of people have been dying because of sunstroke and heat wave. But the state government is yet to be serious to tackle the issue and bring down the number of deaths due to extreme heat if not able to prevent it."
Basudev Mahapatra
   

2010 summer has been harsh from the beginning placing Orissa vulnerable to not only flood and cyclonic storms, but also to the heat of the scorching sun and extreme temperature thereof. Shooting beyond 47 degree Centigrade in the month of April, this year’s summer has made life miserable since its advent. Sudden rise in temperature is said to have taken over 100 lives by now (April 28, 2010) whereas Orissa government confirms only 17. During April, Mercury has crossed 47 degree mark in Talcher of Angul and above 46 in Sambalpur, Jharsuguda and Bhubaneswar. Almost whole of western Orissa is experiencing high degree of temperature.

Coal rich Talcher and coal mines areas of Jharsuguda are the most ill-fated place so far. ‘Life has become miserable for us as we can’t come out in the day time because of the scorching sun and heat wave, nor can we stay inside the house in the night. It’s too hot round the clock’, said Manoranjan Sahu of Talcher adding that, ‘we stop our near and dear ones who wish to visit our place in the summer vacations’.

Over the last decade, Orissa has been experiencing extreme heat during the summer. Every year, hundreds of people have been falling victims to sunstroke and heat wave. But the state government is yet to be serious to tackle the issue and bring down the number of deaths due to extreme heat if not able to prevent it. The departments only come up with loud announcement of measures like distribution of water in public places and lots of advices for people on what to do to beat the heat in summer. It’s not only a few temporary relief measures but long term action plan is required to reduce the number of death and minimize the level of discomfort that nature causes to people of the state in the summer.

Water bodies disappearing too fast

In most of the cities, need of houses matching the growth of population demands more space for housing. Inspired by this fact and allured by the promises in real estate business, water bodies are being filled up by the builders and soon a pond is developed for construction of houses and apartments. That’s why, ‘Dotted more closely once upon a time, almost all the water bodies in the filigree city of Cuttack are filled up by people and real estate dealers to raise simplex, duplex and apartments. Once known to be a swampy city with ample free space, Cuttack has now become a dense concrete jungle’, said Subhransu Mohanty – a TV Producer and communication consultant from the city of Cuttack. In fact, the natural elements like water bodies, orchards and green cover have been destroyed in the cities in the name of development and expansion.

Same is the situation in Bhubaneswar. Even though the city has less number of water bodies in compare to Cuttack, most of them are now past as all have been grabbed by land mafias in connivance with revenue officials. Now big apartments and housing projects are raised on those places where once a pond was there. Not only in Bhubaneswar, water bodies are disappearing fast even in the outskirts where the city is expanding. Looking at the growing land price, people of outskirt villages are also into filling up of village ponds and converting them into housing lands. ‘The ponds or water bodies which were individual or private properties have faced such a fate. Not those which are recorded by revenue department. And, you can’t tell someone to stop from doing this because he needs money and the pond is valueless unless it is filled and converted to housing land. People in outskirt villages are allured by the money they are offered for land. So, why they would think of conserving a pond that is useless for them? It depends on our civic responsibility. But, again, you can’t impose it on poor villagers and people who are in need of money for their development’, said a leading infrastructure leasing and development consultant of Bhubaneswar Tarun Barik.

The cities like Berhampur and Sambalpur are also facing the same fate. As, there is a law prohibiting water bodies to use for housing, the ponds are initially used as garbage dumping places and later, once it becomes incapable of carrying water, they are being used for housing purpose. This practice has picked up more speed since real estate business has picked up in the state of Orissa.

Nobody including the government housing agencies bother for the far reaching impact of such practice. Many of the government housing projects are raised on low land areas that once carried huge water bodies.

Forests and Mines burning

Deforestation due to industrialization and mining are being discussed as reasons for temperature rise. Apart from large scale deforestation for mining and industrialization, there have been huge patches of forests set on fire by local people. Now, even timber mafias are promoting this for their own purpose. Recently, there was widespread fire in Simlipal reserve forests. The forests of Keonjhar are facing the same fate. A month back, while travelling along the forests of Keonjhar, I found kilometer long fire lines in the forests at many places. Nobody bothers to stop it. The forest department doesn’t work to extinguish the fire. It rather sits calm just by shifting the blame to the tribal people.

Same is the situation in coal reserve areas. Angul and Jharsuguda are the two districts having huge coal reserves and open cast coal mines. Every year, the coal mines catch fire in the summer and keep on burning for a longer period which again adds to the atmospheric temperature to make both the districts reel under heat wave.

City sees Green in Grass and Cactus

This year the heat is crucial to people in the capital because hundreds of trees have been felled by the government itself in the name of beautification and widening of the roads in the capital city. Instead of planting saplings before cutting the trees, government has just been irresponsive to the law and no plantation work has been taken up yet. There is no tree where someone can take rest for a while. Rather, the city looks for green in the decorative grass and cactus plants on the roadside. It seems, the havoc of heat across the state including capital city Bhubaneswar is a creation by the government itself.

‘Yes, development is required. We need our cities to be beautiful and the roads be widened. We can’t stop that. But, we can’t also ruin the environment and let the cities burn like this in the summer. It’s not only the government, but people should also contribute to the conservation of environment. If deforestation is required in the city for development works, we must create forests and required water bodies in the outskirts’, says Tarun Barik.

So, in order to deal with the problem of rising temperature across the state, the government must have a long term vision and planning than just taking a few relief measures during the summer only. A balance between development or concretization and environment conservation has to be worked out. Otherwise, in a few years, the issue will gather more strength and summer will come with a spell of disaster in the state of Orissa.

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