NGT asks Odisha to not allow Baliyatra festival on Mahanadi riverbed

Months after the case of a culture festival of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living landed in National Green Tribunal over allegations of destroying the floodplains of Yamuna river, the NGT has now asked Odisha government to stop a similar festival in the riverbed Mahanadi, its largest river.
In the second intermediate order issued on Monday, NGT Eastern Zone bench members justice SP Wangdi and Dr PC Mishra asked the Odisha government to explain why it would not pass coercive orders for violation of its previous orders on stopping any encroachment and dumping of waste materials on Mahanadi riverbed near Cuttack city. Acting on a petition by noted environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty, the NGT Wednesday ordered the State government to stop allocating stalls on the riverbed for the 10-day-long Baliyatra festival starting from November 14.
While the culture festival by Sri Sri’s organisation was far away from the river, the one in Odisha is right on the riverbed. Incidentally, the ruling Biju Janata Dal is in the midst of a protest over neighbouring Chhhatisgarh allegedly taking away much of Mahandi’s river by constructing barrages and dams upstream. The petitioner in March this year had alleged that apart from massive encroachment of the riverbed by several government and private bodies over the years, the Baliyatra held in every winter, encroached upon at least 24 acres of the river. Mohanty, a former a member of the National Board for Wildlife had petitioned the NGT that the river bed and the downstream of the water body was being covered with solid waste,
including construction debris and household waste. Reclamation activity is continuing to raise the river bed.
While Cuttack Municipal Corporation had encroached into the Kathjodi river, a distributary of the Mahanadi near Cuttack, by raising the height of the river bed upto 20-25 feet another 700 huts and buildings were erected illegally in the bed of Kathjodi river.
Appearing for the petitioner, his advocate Sankar Pani alleged that despite the July 15 interim order, it was surprising how the State government went ahead and allocated 45 stalls for the Baliyatra, starting next week. Pani told the NGT bench that the massive dumping of plastic and other waste by more than a million visitors to the Baliyatra festival would ruin the river ecology.
Pani told the bench that large transport trucks are now using the reclaimed river bed of Mahanadi river for parking purposes thereby compacting the soft soil and damaging the river ecology with leaking lubricants and other polluting liquids. A construction company which is constructing underground sewerage project of Cuttack city is using the reclaimed area for its labour sheds and parking of construction machinery. Besides, an 800 metres long concrete road has been built on the reclaimed Mahanadi river bed.
The case has been listed for November 11 for next hearing.

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