By Amritapa Basu:
Ask anyone in and around Kolkata about their favorite destination to spend a 2-day holiday, they will emphatically declare “Puri-r theke bhalo jayega ki hote pare!” (No place is better than Puri). Puri in Orissa is well-known for the famous Jagannath Temple. It is also called the Mumbai of the East sans the metro effect, with a long coastline and beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal. But like many other places in the world, Puri has also been a victim of the breaking away of the coastline. In 2007, a stretch of 1.5 km was engulfed by the Bay of Bengal and the area has been declared as hazardous. Transportation had been denied on the land aligned to this stretch. Beside this, Marine Drive of the east has come up the township of New Puri which declares itself to be cleaner than the ‘old’ Puri and flaunts numerous posh hotels and shops. Crowds of tourist throng into this area to feel the ocean wash their feet. But this ocean seems to act as a boomerang now.
The local municipality managed the situation temporarily by dumping sand-bags and trunks of date trees at the concerned site but the impending danger lies imminent. According to a report by Imon Chakraborty, the price of land in the adjoining areas came crashing down in no time. What was priced at Rs. 2000 per square foot was being given away at Rs. 500 per square foot. With the receding coastline, the influx of tourists has also reduced.
According to the researchers of Institute of Oceanographic Management, it is a long-term influence of the disastrous December 2004-tsunami which wreaked havoc in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and eastern coast of South India and erratic rains in Orissa which are leading to the fast breaking away of coast. Humans are helpless before the forces of nature — a statement that has been declared umpteen numbers of times but are we absolutely innocent when it comes to disaster? Waves of ocean or the flow of river eroding soil from one part and depositing the eroded soil in some other part is a natural and cyclic process. But it assumes the shape of disaster when humans tend to intrude upon and interfere in a natural process. Environment, as it is its nature, would try to retaliate back to attain its stability and thus magnifying the effect of a simple natural ritual.
The beach is demarcated by the low-tide line and high-tide line and as per the Coastal Regulation Zone, 1991 (CRZ) construction in any form is strictly prohibited in this part. This region constantly faces the lashes of high-tide and low-tide, breaking away and re-building is a regular phenomenon. But as always laws and rules hold true only on paper, reality brings forth a different picture. Though CRZ, 1991 prohibits construction, Puri-Konark Development Authority constructed a road in 2004 citing the reason that they were merely improving a unmetalled, muddy, kutcha road into a proper metalled road. Urbanization and modernization are two words which people tend to trust with their eyes closed, without thinking of the consequences that may follow later. There were propositions of coming up with some mega construction project in this reason which was discarded later in the wake of the sudden crisis.
The inevitable question that arises here is that was the Government absolutely oblivious of the construction of a large stretch of concrete road or were the rules bent to fill the pockets of some influential businessman and contractors? A report on Desh (2007) reads —
A detailed report by the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa (NIO) says that if illegal construction is not stopped immediately, it will be impossible to save Puri’s coast. On the other hand, Orissa’s Beach Protection Counsellor claims that the Orissa Government is purposely repressing the reports of NIO and other such organizations. In turn, they are using the oft-repeated word ‘development’ to escape the harsh realities.
Reports have suggested that few people want redress and have proposed to bring down all developmental construction but that is not a practical solution. The roots of corruption lie too deep to be weeded and laws will be flouted again but at what cost? The tourism industry, the local people and the fishermen on the beach know it too well.