Chilika is the largest brackish water lake in Asia and also the second largest lake in the world. Chilika is situated between 19º28' and 19º54' North latitude and 85º05' and 85º 38' East longitude. A mix of estuarine, marine and freshwater ecosystem is observed here and the lagoon has a long history of sustainable fishing. According to the Directorate of Fisheries Statistics 2000-01, the wetland supports 122,339 fisher folk who live in the 137 villages near Chilika.
Based on highly productive ecosystem, rich biodiversity and socio-economic importance, Chilika was designated as a Ramsar site in 1981. It has also found its position in the list of wetlands selected for intensive conservation and management by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), Government of India. The Nalaban Island within the lagoon is notified as a "bird sanctuary" under Wild Life (protection) Act in 1987. Some rare, vulnerable and endangered animal species listed in the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) inhabit the lagoon area for the whole or at least part of their life cycle.
It supports the largest congregation of aquatic birds in the country, particularly during the winter. Satapada is a place in this wetland, which hosts famous dolphins. The lagoon has a great value in preserving genetic diversity because of the variety of habitats, flora and fauna. In addition to its importance for water birds and biodiversity in general, significant numbers of people are dependent upon the lake's resource.
Due to serious degradation brought mainly by siltation and choking of the seawater inlet channel, the decrease in fish productivity, and an overall loss of biodiversity, Chilika Lake was added to the list of Ramsar sites in danger- the Montreux Record in 1993. To address the ecological problems of the lagoon, Chilika Development Authority (CDA) was created in 1992. It implemented a bold programme of action to restore the ecosystem and to improve the socio-economic conditions of the communities living around the lagoon and on its islands. The lagoon was later on removed from the Montreux Record in 2002 after a detailed survey by the Ramsar advisory mission.
The ecological problems in the Chilika lagoon exist till today. The threats are:
- Siltation due to littoral drift and sediments from the inland river systems.
- Shrinkage of water surface area.
- Choking of the inlet channel as well as shifting of the mouth connecting to the sea.
- Decrease in salinity and fishery resources.
- Proliferation of fresh water invasive species an overall loss of biodiversity with decline in productivity adversely affecting the livelihood of the community that depended on it.
Fights between fishermen and non-fishermen communities about fishing rights in the lake and consequent court cases.
In early nineties the lake was 914 sq km in area, now it is less than 800 sq km. The major threat comes from the fight between the traditional and non-traditional fishermen. The non-fishermen community uses the unsustainable methods of shrimp farming to exploit the lake’s resources.
NGOs and concerned people in this area have come together several times to save the rights of the fishermen community. Remarkable judgements were passed by the HC of Orissa and SC of India and protest marches were made. A proper decision is yet to be made by the state government on this issue.
This case was taken up by the HC of Orissa and later on by SC of India as a result of wide spread protest by the fishermen community. The followings are some of the highlights of the court orders and government and public actions.
The “lease policy” was proposed which divided the whole fishing sources of the Lake into ‘Capture’ and Culture’ and allowed the non-fishermen of the locality to involve themselves in ‘Shrimp Culture’ in the Lake.
Chilika Aquatic Farms Limited (CAFL)-a joint project by the government of Orissa and Tata was implemented.
Chilika Banchao Anadolan (The Save Chilika Movement) began in 1991 against the TATA's project and other illegal prawn cultivators.
Orissa High Court gave a ruling affirming the rights of traditional fisher folk in Chilika, banned modern prawn culture and directed the state government to demolish all prawn gherries which was illegal.
Tatas moved their operation away from the lake.
Revision of the 1991 lease policy to define ‘capture’ and ‘culture’ sources and a role to Fishery Department.
But the revised lease proposal did not make any significant change over.
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, Dr. K. Alagarswamy report came out with recommendations to save the cultural source.
The Supreme Court of India issued a historical judgement against aquaculture in Chilika based on these reports. The Court held that the intensified shrimp farming culture by modern methods is violation of constitutional provisions and central acts, especially the Environment Protection Act. Therefore it cannot be permitted to operate.
Orissa legislative assembly constituted a sub-committee to look at shrimp culture in Chilika Lake. The committee allowed the practice of leasing out some portions of Chilika Lake for prawn culture.
The “Chilika Macchhyajibi Mahasangha” started a campaign to implement Supreme Court orders and fulfil their nine point demand. The fish worker organisation then gave a 24 hour ultimatum to demolish all prawn infrastructures, which lapsed on May 29th. After the deadline they themselves destroyed about 11 illegal prawn farms. Police open fired on fishermen.
P.K. Tripathy Commission constituted to enquire into the police firing.
The government suspended lease for shrimp culture in Chilika.
Fishing In Chilika (Regulation) Bill 2002 passed by the government. The bill apparently protected the traditional rights of the fishermen by giving only 30 per cent fishing rights to non-fisher folk.
The Jan Adalat demanded the withdrawal of the Chilika (Regulation) Bill 2002.
The government tried to table the bill in the winter session of Orissa legislative assembly. Fisher folks protest against the sharing of the water body’s resources.
Fisher mens’ march demanding withdrawal of the anti-fisher folk ‘Black Chilika Bill’.
P.K. Tripathy Commission report published. Justified the police firing at Sorana in May. Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangh rejects the report.
Chilika Macchhyajibi Mahasangha threatens to stop the vehicular movement on the roads of Bhubaneshwar if the bill was tabled.
An announcement was made by the chief minister of Orissa on the establishment of National Institute on “Management of wetlands and coastal ecosystem” in collaboration with the Ministry of Forest and Environment.