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December 3, 1999
Proposed restaurant threatens Chilka lake's bio-diversity
Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneswar
Chilka, the largest brackish water lake in Asia, might have escaped the wrath of the super cyclone that struck coastal Orissa recently claiming over 20,000 lives, but its future is now threatened by a proposal of the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation to develop a floating restaurant on its waters.
The lake that shrinks to just 906 sq km in summer from its 1156 sq km in rainy season, is a 'Ramsar site' - a status accorded to it by the International Convention of Environment held in Ramsar in Iran in 1971.
Chilka, which is host to 149 varieties of fish, 800 species of fauna and 350 species of non-aquatic plants, was already a concern for environmentalists because of heavy siltation, increase in aqua-culture activities and dwindling bio-diversity.
Now, this floating restaurant, proposed to be built at a cost of Rs 1 crore, has added to the concerns.
The lake's unique salinity gradient is responsible for its bio-diversity and it could be the first casualty if the floating restaurant becomes a reality.
Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa, said: ''The threat to this lake has been more man-made than natural. This restaurant with its effluents would further endanger aquatic life and the noise would scare away the birds.''
Every winter, Chilka is home to more than 160 species of birds including inter-continental migratory birds. This year too birds from far-flung areas have started arriving, although the cyclone has delayed things a bit.
But more than the wild life, OTDC seems to be worried about tourists and its profits. Apart from the floating restaurant, there are proposals to create island resorts.
Environmentalists say their only hope now is the Coastal Regulation Zone. Chilka lake falls under the CRZ and any development here would need clearance from the Ministry of Environment.
"If nothing works we'll have to go to the court," said Mohanty.
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