The election-eve promise of the ruling TDP-BJP combine to downsize the Kolleru lake seems to be taking a heavy toll on the bird sanctuary.
Eying around 2 lakh voters in nine mandals of West Godavari and two mandals in Krishna district falling under the lake, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu made a joint statement from an election rally in Bhimavaram to reduce the wildlife sanctuary area from the +five contour to +three contour. The move is intended to release an extent of 30,000 acres of land from the sanctuary area for fish farming by the native fishing communities. Eluru MP Maganti Venkateswara Rao of the TDP a few days ago led a delegation of fishermen from the villages inside the lake to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an appeal to prevail upon the National Board for Wildlife, headed by Mr. Modi himself, to consider their demand.
A considerable number of MLAs and MPs, including a prominent Minister, are reported to have stakes, either overtly or covertly, in the annual Rs. 2,000 cr. pisciculture business in the Kolleru lake. It all created an adverse environment for the agencies entrusted with the protection of the Kolleru which figures in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance, as a wildlife sanctuary in line with the High Court’s directions.
According to information, fishponds re-emerged on more than 80 per cent of 14,000-odd acres of zeraiti (private) lands in the prohibited sanctuary area after demolitions during the operation Kolleru programme in 2006. The alleged failure of the government to follow the due process of acquiring these lands by extending compensation to the land owners is said to be the reason for restoration of pisciculture in these patches. Zeraiti lands apart, the government lands in the +five contour are also allegedly subjected to encroachments for fish farming on a large scale in the recent past.
A Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Wildlife Division, Srinivasa Rao, was placed under suspension sometime ago for his alleged nexus with encroachers, resulting in restoration of fishponds in Pidichintapadu area. When the Forest personnel dismantled a prawn culturing pond built in 150 acres in government lands inside the sanctuary at Chatakai under Bhujabalapatnam gram panchayat of Krishna district a few days ago, a Minister was alleged to have pressurized the official top brass to condone the encroachers.