Sambalpur: The Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) and Mahanadi River Waterkeeper organised the 2nd Odisha River Conference on the theme – Building an Inter-State Cooperation Framework for Management of Mahanadi River Basin – at Hotel Kaveri in Sambalpur on 22nd-23rd April, 2018.
Around 150 people from basin communities such as farmers and fisher folks participated in the programme along with civil society representatives, river and water experts and academicians from across the country.
Addressing the gathering, Ranjan Panda, convener of WIO said, “There has been a lot of politics and inter-state river water conflicts in the country. But in the process of fighting, let the rights of the river as an ecological entity is not snatched. While the dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh is rife, it is unfortunate that both the states are treating Mahanadi as a commodity, not a natural resource.”
“No doubt Chhattisgarh has constructed many dams and barrages without the consent of Odisha and has obstructed a lot of water, but that does not mean we can conclude that Chhattisgarh has siphoned off water from Odisha’s share. We need a comprehensive understanding and analysis of the impacts all these structures will have on availability of water in the basin. Let the tribunal decide how to make such an analysis and instruct Chhattisgarh to stop these obstructions if they are found to be illegal. But, let’s not close the door of dialogue and cooperation between the two states on several issues that needs urgent attention. Barrages alone are not killing Mahanadi, there are many other factors that need urgent intervention,” Panda said.
He pointed out that “Our concern should be on how to rejuvenate the ecological entity of Mahanadi. The two states should come together to solve Mahanadi problem. Changes should be brought in the laws at the national level to establish the rights of communities over river and the river’s own rights.”
Vice-Chancellor of Sambalpur University Prof Deepak Behera, who was the chief guest on the occasion, announced that a research project dedicated to Mahanadi will be initiated in the university. The research will not only be limited to the university lab, it will involve the field level workers too. He added that a proper assessment of water availability and distribution between different priorities is important to understand the challenges as well as suggest measures to solve them. He emphacised on a resource mapping involving communities of the basin to ensure their stake on the river.
Prof Premanand Panda, who chaired the inaugural session, said while seeking a solution to the Mahanadi problem, we should not have an Orissa-centric approach but a river centric approach. He added that rights of a river can be established when people are empowered to use water judiciously. He maintained that water rights is a part of human rights because when a river dies a civilization dies with it. He explained the statement while drawing examples from across the world.
Among others, climate change expert Saroj Dash, civil society leaders Umashankar Sahu, Sneha Mishra and Prafulla Hota and senior journalists Ashok Pradhan, Mehboob Mehtab and Bijay Mishra, emphacised on dialogues and cooperation framework for river conservation to ensure right of the communities and right of the river.
The two-day conference will debate on issues like rights, governance, climate change, disasters, water security and pollution in six technical sessions, two general sessions and a community conclave. The conference aims at starting a process of formulating and will come up with a set of recommendations for survival, rejuvenation and conservation of Mahanadi and other rivers.
The second batch of Odisha Water Honours were given away during the inaugural session.
Jala Joddha Samman 2018: Prof Artabandhu Mishra, renowned environmentalist, researcher and academician was conferred with this award for his lifetime contribution in creating awareness on water conservation.
Ajira Bhagiratha Samman 2018: Charmallik Anchalika Bikas Parishad, a federation of people’s organizations from Angul district, was conferred with this award for their contribution in mobilising communities for conservation of water resources, forests and common grazing land.
Selfie with Mahanadi Award: College students Sunil Kumar Tandia, Soujanya Behera and Ninima Chhanda were conferred with the first, second and third prizes respectively in the ‘Selfie with Mahanadi’ contest that was organised by the Mahanadi River Waterkeeper and Patang earlier to connect the youth with Mahanadi.