Villagers living along river banks in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts fear losing their cattle grazing fields and burial grounds to the state's new plantation drive 'Mission Green Mahanadi'.
The project, estimated to cost Rs 200 crore, aims at planting over two crore saplings along the banks of Mahanadi and its tributaries to arrest soil erosion and improve bio-diversity.
The government's announcement had initially elicited positive reactions from people in the riverside villages. But the fear of losing out on their community utility land has now made some of them skeptical about the project.
"The project would definitely check soil erosion and help recharge ground water. The river embankments would receive a natural buffer. In the long run, it will be immensely beneficial to people living in flood- prone areas," said Zilla Parishad member Ganesh Chandra Samal.
The residents of Tikapanga village in Kendrapara, however, want the government to protect their utility land before implementing the project.
"We welcome the plantation project. At the same time we don't want to lose the village cremation ground or the grazing fields. The government officials should provide an alternative land before the drive gets underway," a Tikapanga village resident said on the condition of anonymity.
The farmers in the catchment areas reap bumper crops every year. Vegetable cultivation is also abundantly done in these plots after paddy cultivation.
"The landowners should be duly compensated (if they lose their plots)," Kanhu Charan Ojha of Gadaramita village in Kendrapara said.
People living in the catchment areas of Jahanpur village in Jagatsinghpur district shared similar apprehensions.
While the massive plantation drive would go a long way in checking soil erosion and strengthening embankments in flood-prone areas along the river, areas like cremation ground would be lost in the process, said Mahendra Biswal, a resident of Jahanpur.
Therefore, the government should take necessary steps for making available land for community utility purpose, he said.
Compensation should also be provided to farmers who are likely to be affected by the project, Biswal said.
The project is being implemented in view of the larger interest of people in flood-prone villages. The government would definitely look into the complaints of local people, if there was one, said Jagatsinghpur Collector Yamini Sadangi.
The first phase of the plantation drive would be undertaken on 200 sq km stretch in 2018-19, said a forest official.
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