The National Green Tribunal has imposed restrictions on the Odisha government’s ambitious Bali Jatra project, for which the Cuttack district administration had reclaimed an area of around 426 acres of the Mahanadi riverbed, environmentalists said on Saturday.
As part of the Bali Jatra riverfront or the Barfi project, the district administration had reclaimed the floodplain zone of the river near Jobra barrage in Cuttack city by filling sand and garbage, they claimed.
According to them, the move allegedly “reduced the water retaining capacity of the barrage and posed a threat of inundation to at least 38 nearby villages”.
A five-member special bench, headed by chairperson Justice A K Goel, said it was difficult to accept the state government’s plan for construction on the reclaimed land, which has been clearly established to be part of the floodplain zone.
“There’s the clear anticipated danger of flooding. We’re guided by precautionary principle under Section 20 of the NGT Act,” the eastern zone of the NGT observed while adjudicating on an application by city-based advocate Pradip Pattnaik.
The tribunal, however, has agreed to retain the original Bali Jatra ground of 34 acres, although it falls under the floodplain zone.
This is because the ground has been used for holding the annual historic festival since time immemorial, it said.
The Bali Jatra is one of the largest open fairs in Asia to commemorate the glorious past of voyages to the islands of Indonesia by Odia traders.
“There should be no further expansion and no concretisation or compacting of the said ground,” the court said.
It also directed that the remaining 392 acres of land be used for plantation of local species and the area be developed as a biological park where no commercial activity would be allowed.
The NGT said “two-thirds of the reclaimed land be developed as dense forest” and the remaining area may be used for the park and playground without any permanent or temporary constructions or any commercial activity.
“It is made clear that no concretisation of any sort will be allowed in the entire 426 acres of reclaimed land,” the tribunal said, adding that due precautions for maintaining sanitation and hygiene should be made at the Bali Jatra ground.
The bench directed the state government to take necessary safeguard measures for protecting 38 riverside villages, which are likely to be affected by flood in the periphery of Cuttack city.
It also ordered that the area where the forest is to be developed may be handed over to the forest department after demarcation.
“Rest of the area may be maintained by the local body/ irrigation department, as may be decided by the state government,” the bench said.
Meanwhile, Cuttack collector Bhabani Shankar Chayni said the administration will examine the NGT order.
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