From Sanjaya Jena in Bhubaneswar
The rush of steel industries in Orissa could prove fatal for rich mangrove forests of Bhitarakanika. Once waters of Brahmani river basin are diverted to cater demands of steel industries in Jajpur district, the rich mangrove forests may be wiped out by 2010, predicted a study by Cuttack-based non-government organisation, Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO) in Bhubaneswar recently.
The WSO study stated the state government is inviting steel industries to Kalinga Nagar industrial estate of Jajpur district relying on abundant supplies of fresh water in Brahmani river. A total capacity of 44 million tonnes of steel production has been promised to different companies on the Brahmani river.
Thumb rule says steel-making requires huge quantities of water and for every tonne of finished steel, 100,000 cubic metres of water is required. WSO secretary Biswajit Mohanty said, ?The total live storage capacity (LSC) of Rengali Reservoir is 4,400 million cubic metres (mcum). Rengali canals will require 3,450 mcum. Large industrial users like NTPC, NALCO, Mahandi Coalfields, SAIL shall draw 454 mcum. Additional 414 million cubic metres shall be drawn from Brahmani at Jokadia barrage once the mega steel plants go on stream. Thus a total of 4,318 million cubic metres, which is almost equal to the available water supply, shall be withdrawn from the river.?
The world famous Bhittarkanika mangrove forests has been declared Ramsar Site due to its international importance. Fresh water brought by the Brahmani river to Bhittarkanika mixes with sea water to produce brackish water ideal for mangroves and it is very sensitive to changes in salinity.
Any pressure on Brahmani river water would lead to drastic changes in biodiversity of Bhittarkanika mangroves as there would be acute shortage of fresh water downstream of Jokadia barrage, the assessment report stated.
Mr Mohanty said, ?The situation could turn catastrophic in a bad monsoon. The water availability at Jokadia is drastically reducing every year. It was only 98.56 cusecs in April, 2003 compared to 231.66 cusecs in April, 1999-a decrease of nearly 58 per cent over the last four years.?
These rich mangrove forests spread over 195 sq kms have a high level of bio-diversity since 62 of the world's73 mangrove species are found here. They are also the habitat for more than 1,358 salt water crocodiles as well as breeding grounds for fish, crabs and shrimps. The man-crocodile conflict is also expected to become grim since the estuarine crocodiles are bound to migrate upstream once salinity increases due to decrease in supply of fresh water, said the WSO paper. Mr Mohanty demanded that the state government should first assess the requirement of water for drinking and irrigation for the lakhs of people dependent upon the Brahmani river system before assuring water to the mega steel plants.