The Orissa High Court on Friday ordered the constitution of a three-member committee for consultations with stakeholders and verifying compliance of earlier court orders on conservation of endangered Olive Ridley turtles.
According to the Orissa HC order, the team will comprise Kartik Shanker, Associate Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru; Susanta Nanda, Director, Forest and Environment Department, Odisha; and Mohit Agarwal, Amicus Curiae in the matter.
Taking cognisance of a media report on the death of Olive Ridley turtles, the Orissa High Court had issued notices to the State government.
The committee would visit the Gahirmatha and Rushikulya beaches as well as consult with locals, fishermen and other persons involved in the conservation and protection of ecological biodiversity in the area, and to verify the compliance of directions issued earlier by the Orissa HC.
The committee has been directed to submit the report by March 10, while the next hearing has been fixed for March 15.
The Orissa HC wanted State authorities to be in touch with committee members for their arrival and visit to the sites.
In the affidavit submitted to the Orissa HC, the Divisional Forest Officer of Rajnagar, under jurisdiction whose the Gahiramatha beach falls, said that as per reports received from turtle protection camps, 406 turtles had been found dead along the entire 130-km coastal stretch of the division.
“On commencement of turtle season, dead turtles are seen on beaches every year and these casualties have been ascribed to incidental kills due to suffocation in fishing nets of trawlers and injury by propellers of trawlers. Carcasses found on the beach are not necessarily due to death occurred in that area. Often the carcasses are drifted towards shore by sea winds from far off areas,” said the DFO in his affidavit.
This year, 30 boats have been seized for fishing illegally in the Gahirmatha Wildlife Sanctuary area, wherein 167 persons have been arrested, says the affidavit.
The DFO said that due to efforts by all stakeholders, turtle mortality had been reduced significantly to less than 50% this year as compared to that in the previous years.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice B. P. Routray has emphasised on reviving the issue to ensure that Olive Ridley turtles that have been visiting the beaches of Odisha over many years are not endangered, and that the general health of the coast is improved and preserved.
The Orissa HC had dealt with the matter twice in case of WWF India (World Wide Fund for Nature-India) versus State of Orissa, and Biswajit Mohanty versus State of Orissa.
The HC had quoted the media report saying 800 Olive Ridley turtles in Odisha had died since January this year in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, the world’s largest rookery for the sea turtles.