Ori HC took stock of issue of illegal prawn enclosures (‘gheries’) around Indian wetland of international importance, the eco-sensitive Chilika Lake; Laid directions

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Muralidhar and B. P. Routray, JJ., addressed the issue of the problems encountered in the effective implementation of the various statutory provisions towards maintaining the ecological balance in the area.

Background (Significance of Chilika Lake)

  1. In 1981 the Chilika Lake was designated as the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an inter-governmental treaty entered into by 169 countries of the world, which deals with conservation aspects of inland waters and the near shore coastal areas.
  2. A unique feature of the Chilika Lake is that it is adjoining the Bay of Bengal and therefore, there is salt water predominance in the lake during summer. During the rainy season, sweet water displaces the salt water and flows into the sea. Fish of the lake swim to the sea to lay eggs. The juveniles then return to the lake to grow. Chilika fish thus possess a peculiar distinct taste.

 The instant batch of petitions were filed regarding concerns of the threats posed to the ecology of the Chilika Lake on account of unregulated, indiscriminate fishing, including the large-scale production of shrimps/prawns on commercial scale.

 Observations

The Court relied on judgment S. Jagannath v. Union of India, (1997) 2 SCC 87 and M. K. Balakrishnan v. Union of India in Writ Petition (Civil) No.230 of 2001 and observed that numerous directions have been issued rfrom time to time but there has been a huge failure on the part of law enforcement. It was further observed that there is no dearth of statutory provisions, or authorities constituted thereunder or powers of those authorities to carry out steps to ensure the preservation of the ecology of the Chilika lake and regulate the activities of fishing, coastal aquaculture including shrimp/prawn production. Numerous committees have also been constituted from time to time to examine the issue. There also have been Task Forces constituted at periodical intervals.

The Court observed that the purport of the provisions of the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act, 2005 i.e. the CAA Act is to ensure that all persons undertaking the activity of coastal aquaculture in a coastal area have to compulsorily get the operation/farms registered. If they do not have any such registration as mandated under Section 13 (1) read with Section 13 (4) (5) and (9), then straightaway they invite action under Section 14 of the CAA Act. Thus it is clear that in a coastal area there cannot be any coastal aquaculture activity undertaken unless there is registration under the CAA Act and if a person operating a coastal aquaculture farm is unable to produce a valid registration as well as the license, such person cannot be allowed to continue to operate.

The Court also remarked that even while the eviction/demolition drives are undertaken, those erecting and operating the illegal prawn/shrimp farms are able to revive the activity in the very same area in a very short time.

Findings of the Court

  1. There is a failure to invoke the statutory provisions that resultant the FIRs being registered only under some relatively benign provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)
  2. There was inaction of the Authority under the CAA Act in nominating an officer under Section 15 of the CAA Act to file complaints under Section 14 of the CAA Act.
  3. failure to fill up the vacancy of the posts of Chairperson and Members of the Authority under the CAA Act. plethora of authorities including the CDA have not really taken effective measures

Specific Directions laid down

  1. The Court accordingly directs that each of the STFs will

(i) Prepare and operate a check list of what should be seized during the raid;

(ii) Ensure that the seized materials are taken away far from the site, properly inventorised and kept under the watch of the authorities till the conclusion of the criminal cases;

(iii) Promptly register FIRs invoking all the available statutory provisions and importantly the PDPPA Act.

 General Directions

The Court directed “the CDA to be proactive in this regard and continuously draw the attention of the authorities concerned to the extent and complexity of the problem. raids conducted in the different districts is sporadic and not continuous. This gives enough time to the violators to regroup and revive their activities.” 

The Court directed the demolition should be not only of the illegal prawn gherries but also of illegal prawn hatcheries.

The Court directs that each of the demolition actions must be videographed to show that not only have they been effectively demolished but all the equipments used have actually been seized and taken away far from the site and detained in the custody of the authority concerned.

The Court further directed each of the Collectors of Puri, Ganjam, Kendrapara and Khurda to immediately apply to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management in Chennai and obtain satellite imagery of the areas in which the illegal shrimp/prawn farms and hatcheries are operating; place those satellite imagery maps before the Court to indicate the exact locations of such illegal farms and hatcheries,

The Court further directed “the concerned Police Stations in each of the four Districts to ensure that the investigation in each of these FIRs is not delayed; the charge-sheets are properly filed; that the cases are taken to the logical end without undue delay.”[Registrar Judicial v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Ori 1123, decided on 14-08-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances

For petitioner- Mr Mohit Agarwal, Amicus Curiae and Mr S. K. Dalai

For respondent- Mr. P. K. Parhi, Mr. M. S. Sahoo, Mr. V. Narasingh, Mr. Manoj Kumar Mohanty, Mr. Sukant Kumar Nayak, Mr. B. P. Pradhan, and Mr. S. K. Sarangi

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