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To Copenhagen, with Four Days’ Winter!

By DN Singh | Last Updated: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 - 16:44
DN Singh
Orissa Diary

Yes, that is the reality. In Bhubaneswar, the so called beautiful capital city of Orissa, which is so close to the heart of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the duration of the winter was smaller than the wait for the season!

On November 26, the forecast of a coldwave came as a re-energizer for roadside vendors selling wools and other winter clothing. Then there was a visible rush for buying. The evenings were pleasant and the nights cooler, and by November 29 evening, people had started taking out their naphthalene winter covers. However, November 30 proved to be a dampener for winter revellers.

The anxious wait for a cooler December has still not ended. Temperatures in Bhubaneswar and surrounding areas have started climbing up and with the first week over, the winter seems to have beaten a hasty retreat this year!

Even during the wee hours of the morning one hardly comes across morning-walkers wearing winter clothes and two-wheeler riders too seem content with a windcheater only. Barring a few interior districts, the winter has gradually become an alien feature in remaining parts of the state. The present-day climatic conditions of Orissa can be best summarised as: ‘Orissa is one of the worst victims of climate change’.

<b>What is Copenhagen? </b>

Neither there is a need to go to Copenhagen or somewhere else to find out the reason behind this disturbing reality, nor there is any quest to come out with solutions from the jargon-topped deliberations of the experts there (who have picked up a tendency to resort to the use of terms and languages that normally pass over the head of a common man). Undisputedly, it is a problem which is man-made and the ‘brain-storming’ in the Danish capital city of Copenhagen would not bring about a solution to the plight of Orissa. If the exercise in Copenhagen is really not a serious one, then some bureaucrats from Orissa should have been there to enlighten the delegates, at least, and to show how a state’s climate regime could be corrupted by mindless disregard for the environment!

Many experts often dub Orissa as the ‘disaster capital’ of India with the state having taken the constant beating of nature and we are waiting for the worst. But, often it is not without reason. Then the question arises as to why calamities have been frequently striking this state, and more so in the last four decades, to be precise? For instance, there used to be a time when Bhubaneswar used to record not more than 32 to 33 degree Celsius temperature during peak summer, thus drawing people from many parts of the state as well as the country to come here and spend a quiet summer. What is it that is now forcing people to flee this city to escape the scorching summer when mercury rises upto 46 to 47 degree Celsius, coupled with a killer humidity touching upto 90 percent. Unbearable!

Not going by the pedantic exactitudes of experts or by the equanimity with which political leaders and officials, normally holed up in air-conditioned chambers, dismiss any such nightmare in waiting, the crux of the issue is that it is improper planning which has wilfully or otherwise ignored the principles of holism.

Put your finger anywhere, there is a throbbing nerve. Why just blame the industries alone? Why not other sectors of the state that are somehow contributing to the process of the phenomenal depletion of Mother Nature? Let’s start from the capital itself. The city today has a population of at least 30 lakhs (unofficially) and the sad spectacle of the concrete monstrosity is there for everyone to see through an aerial survey.

More than 90 percent of the land area has been covered by housing including multi-storeyed structures and almost all the trees flanking the main roads have been razed for road expansions at various places. The scenario is, more or less, the same in all other major cities and towns of the state. In the altar of the Golden Quadrilateral stretching from Kolkata to Chennai, about 3 lakh trees have disappeared within Orissa’s boundaries and no attempt is being made to go for any plantation.

<b>Oceanic Invasions </b>

Orissa is a coastal state on the eastern coast of India. There was a time when people here used to boast the 480 kilometre long coastline encircling a major part of the state like a garland serenading in essence, emitting the ripples of romantic thrills for tourists. But today, the tidal ingression is so menacing that the lives of the people in at least six districts are in the jaws of impending catastrophes from the Bay of Bengal. In 1971, a cyclone swept away five villages in Kendrapada district sparing Satvaya village to remain as the vestige only to remind us about a shuddering past. Nobody could ever find out what happened to the people of those five villages.

The super cyclone in 1999 engulfed almost 14 districts of the state, in which more than 10,000 people were reported killed, over four lakh cattle died, close to a lakh houses were partially or fully destroyed, and about 200,000 trees got uprooted thus reducing the forest cover in Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur by 50%. Yet, that failed to teach us any lesson. What is equally ironic is that the national and international media has over the years shown a kind of pathological reluctance to incorporate the 1999 calamity in their yearly recalls, whereas they never fail to gloss either the Bhopal gas tragedy or the Upahar tragedy over and over again.

Tidal invasions are not new but they were always confronted with formidable barriers made of thick concentration of Mangrove and other forestry along the coastline. Once the vegetations were cleared, the shock of such calamities became more devastating. We have lost over the past two decades more than 30,000 acres of Mangrove forests in the Mahanadi delta due to sheer human intervention in different ways. The delta’s face has changed and it now looks like a honey-combed face.

Inadvertently or otherwise, we have brought ourselves into a serious situation; be it by allowing the indiscriminate growth of human habitation there or opening the floodgates into the eco-sensitive zones for commercial activities like prawn farming or paddy cultivation. Political pressure and bureaucratic acquiescence had a telling effect on this bio-diversity and now we are in a hotspot. A study says that in the last four years only, calamities in Orissa have claimed 30,000 human lives. The calamities have become not only frequent but have also made inroads into areas that were never vulnerable earlier.

The 30-km long coastline stretching from Puri to Konark has experienced fatal ingression from the sea in the last three years, and the sea is getting closer every passing year. The reason is same – total removal of the casuarina forestry all along the coast and a sudden spurt of commercial activity from Puri to Konark. To top it all, the proposed university by the Vedanta group spread over 10,000 acres may prove to be the last nail in the coffin.

It appears that there is an attempt underway to destroy the pristine wealth of the nature accumulated over centuries. The realities in districts like Keonjhar, Jajpur, Sundergarh, Bolangir and Sambalpur, to name a few, are sad, as regards to forests. Mining is the only buzzword here and that is the only hot pursuit visible. And the fallout is going to be nothing short of monumental in the days to come.

The ‘Annual Survey of Indian Agriculture’, published sometime back, had stated that an average of 900,000 hectares of agricultural land lose crop every year in the state. It had also reported that the agriculture’s share in the state’s net domestic product had decreased from 33% in 1998-99 to 26% in 2002-03. According to the annual survey, around 100,000 hectares of fertile agriculture land in the coastal areas are inundated every year and also suffer from high levels of salinisation. This has affected rice production in the state. Orissa once used to produce five million tonnes of rice every year, but the production is down to under 4.5 million tonnes from 2000.

What makes matters worse is that the state experiences droughts and floods and they have become an annual feature. The system that rules too has become inured to it. One may argue that it is one thing to toy with possibilities and quite another to face up to a concrete problem. However, the solutions perhaps do not require any extraordinary knowhow or the spewing of jargons on a platform or conclave by experts. What seems essentially lacking is the will to minimize the acts of commercial overdrives and restore the nature to the maximum possible under the prevailing circumstances. Global warming seems inevitable and without getting into the complexities buried under jargons like carbon credit or intensity, Kyoto Basket or anthropogenic warming or anything like that, let’s protect the nature in totality instead of making development as the only bedfellow. Else there might be no winter in the future.

First Published: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 - 16:44

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