Until the 1970s, Bainshi Chandra Behera (65 years old) was living in a good hunting position at Bodhapur in the Cuttack District of Odisha. He practiced his trade in Sukapaika, a distributor of the Mahanadi River, the sixth largest river in India. When Sukapaika began to die an unnatural death, the lake’s only source of livelihood also dried up. He now works as a worker for a fishmonger in Paradeep.

Once the center of prosperity and rich cultural heritage for about 10 people living along its 27 kilometer stretch, said Nrusingha Prasad Das (63), the river has turned into a curse on their riverside villages, thanks to unwise human actions. , from the same village.

The Sukapaica River, covered with lilies, has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies and poisonous snakes. (Photo: Roshan Rath)

The river passes through 425 villages under 26 panchayats in three blocks – Cuttack Sadar, Nishentakweli and Raghunathpur – said Dr. B. He talks about the decline of the fortunes of the people who live there as “the death of a civilization.”

“When a river dies, civilization dies with it, and these four hundred individual villages face the same fate.”

Rath: “The trespassers took advantage of the dry riverbed where they began their illegal business which led to siltation and total death in the next two decades.”

Rath is a concerned citizen and environmental expert, and he heads the Sukapaika Bachao Abhiyan (SBA), a community initiative to revive the river and engages in advocacy with the government and bureaucracy.

Riverside villagers took part in the “No Cooking” campaign from dawn to dusk in April of this year to lobby for their demand to revive the Sukapaica River. People of five gram panchayats made this peaceful demonstration.

Smita Nayak, who has done extensive research on the region’s natural resources, including water, said Sukapaika originates and ends within the Cuttack region, extending from Ayatapur village to Tarapore. In 1952, the government, as a flood control measure, constructed a dam at Ayatapur.

Five years later, about 290 kilometers upstream, the Hirakud Dam in Sambalpur district, said Nayak, who is also the director of a non-profit organization, and after that, a hail of water appeared in Naraj in Cuttack district, about 25 kilometers upstream, “the Association of Orissa Rural Reconstruction (ORRA) “works to strengthen the livelihoods of people affected by climate change and man-made disasters.

Taken together, these structures were intended to control flooding but greatly reduced the flow of water into Sukapaica. Priya Ranjan Sahu, a prominent journalist and environmental activist based in Odisha, said, “According to studies, large dams tend to alter geographic and hydrological systems, and they involve issues of control, power, political relations, social justice and equity. While Farakka, Baglihar, Almatti and Narmada are Some examples, the Hirakud Dam is a new addition. While it has already changed the local environment and severely affected riparian communities, it is also useful in killing the Sukapaica River about 290 km downstream.”

Fishing and livelihoods at risk

“The river is mostly dry. There is no water flowing through it now,” said Ananta Malik, 66, a farmer from the riverside village of Narada Gudagon located under the Praharajpur panchayats in the Cuttack Sadar block. What little is water is leftover water. Precipitation, located in shallow and stagnant patches.

A farmer from Budapur, a riverside village along Sukapaica, points out his hyacinth-encrusted land. (Photo: Priya Ranjan Sahu)

Nrosinga Prasad Das (63 years old) is a village in Bodhapur that was home to 800 exotic fishermen who have lost their livelihood over the years and most of them work as migrant labourers. “The river was rich in a variety of fish such as rohi and pakora,” said Das, recalling his childhood when he once teamed up with his neighbors to catch a huge fish Vecti, which weighed around 40kg.

Roshan Rath, Secretary of the SBA, who also hails from Budapur, said it is not just the fishermen, but now thousands of farmers are unable to sustain agricultural activities, stuck between water scarcity, floods and stagnation.

The water level in the area has been greatly depleted as the river has dried up. All ponds, wells and tube wells, which were used to draw water year-round, are drying up by January, Das said, adding that raising irrigation points in more than 50 villages downstream are still in place. Tube wells that were drawing water 100 feet would have to go deeper to 300 feet to get water.

As the flow of fresh water is disrupted, Das said, salinity in land and in water bodies is increasing rapidly even though the sea (at Paradeep) is about 60 km away. He added that the water from wells and pipes here is not fit for consumption due to the high percentage of iron and arsenic.

On the other hand, according to Ananta Malik (66), a farmer from Narada Gudagon village, in his village and neighboring Samantarapur village under Kishannagar panchayat, more than 1,000 acres of farmland remain submerged for about a month and a half during the rainy season. The season where there is no exchange channel. Crops decompose in stagnant water.

“About four decades ago, my father harvested about 100 quintals of rice and about three quintals of black gram and green gram every year when the river was flowing. Now, I can hardly harvest 10 quintals of rice from the same land,” Malik lamented.

Rivers such as the Sukapaica, which originate in a river and join the same river, have a natural rhythm that drains the excess water, Saho said. Unfortunately, the river that would have emptied the flood waters naturally became a victim of the shortsightedness of government officials, he also lamented.

There are definite dangers in dams. Sahu warned that if immediate measures were not taken to ensure the free flow of the river, nature might restore its drainage path and a Kosi flood-like situation might recur here. In 2008, levees fell on the Kosi River in Nepal, believed to have been weakened by decades of siltation. The breach caused the river to change its course and turn east by more than 100 kilometers. It has inundated large swathes of Bihar and Nepal, displacing more than 3.5 million Indians.

[Read part 2 of this story tomorrow, October 19 to know more about community action to revive the river]

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Bhubaneswar and a member of 101Reporters.com, a grassroots All-India network of correspondents.)

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