The Telegraph
Saturday , January 2 , 2016

‘We gave Chilika a new life’

- Hot seat: Ajit Patnaik, CEO, Chilika Development Authority 

There is much discussion about the condition of Chilika. Is the lake facing a crisis? 

Chilika, a wetland of international importance, was enlisted as a Ramsar site in 1981. Later, it was included in the Montreux Record (the list of threatened Ramsar sites). People thought that the lake was going to be dead because of shrimp culture.  We had taken the help of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and the Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS) to save the water body. It was found that disconnection of Chilika lake with the sea was the root cause of all problems. 

We found that the Japanese had faced similar problems with a lake in Hokkaido 80 years ago. After consultation with ecologists, we sent a proposal to the government and got it approved. We made that intervention in 2000 based on the CWPRS study. A new mouth was opened at a distance of 11km from the lake. In was considered as the game changer, the most successful hydrological intervention that gave a new lease of life to the lake. It was removed from the Montreux Record in 2002. Now, Isro and Nasa have started a survey on Chilika lake for the last one week.

Fish production from the Chilika has fallen drastically. What could be the reasons? And is there a pressure from the local fishing community? 

To ensure a good catch, you have to have scientific management of the lake. There is always pressure from the local fishing community. At this point, you have to disseminate  scientific information to the fishing community and ask them to behave responsibly. There is an increase in arrival of fish species from the sea to the lake.  Earlier, all the migratory routes had been blocked. We have cleared all these. We have educated the fishermen not to put nets on these natural routes. 

With this, fish production has gone up from 2,000 metric tonnes to 12,000 metric tonnes. The lake is a highly productive eco-system and the rich fishery resources support the livelihood of more than 2 lakh fishermen who live in and around the lake.

The British had started primary co-operative societies to give a market linkage to the fishermen so that they could sell their products and earn a livelihood for them. What’s the position of these societies now?

The primary co-operative societies, which had been working in a federal set up with the central co-operative society at its apex, were unfortunately liquidated. Three years ago, a researcher from Kyoto University in Japan had found that the fishermen were in the clutches of moneylenders who were charging 20 to 30 per cent and forcing the fishermen to sell their catch at a pre-determined price. Even no weighing machine was being used. Later, we entered into an MoU with Allahabad Bank. The Central co-operative society was restructured and steps were taken to revamp the primary co-operative societies.  Now, we have been able to set up 40 primary co-operative societies and we aim to take the figure to 100 by March, 2016.  The members of the societies were able to repay their loans.

Winter has already set in. Lakhs of migratory birds visit the lake every year. But their number seems to be on the decline. Has the number come down because of poaching? 

Migration of birds is a global phenomenon. It’s not their home. They are coming from faraway countries such as Siberia, Mongolia, China and from the greater Himalayan region. Under the Wildlife Preservation Act, the CDA officials are not vested with any kind of power. We have to bank upon community support. About 17 anti-poaching camps are working there. Our thrust is on empowering the people with knowledge so that they protect the birds. It has yielded the desired result. 

With the help of the primary co-operative societies, poaching has come down to a great extent. However, it is still an area of concern. We are also convinced that increase in the population of birds will help in growth of the hydro planktons in the lake because of an increase in the volume of bird droppings. This, ultimately, will help in the increase of fisheries resources. 

What is the volume of fish business in and around Chilika?

Chilika fish is free from toxic substances. As we are producing around 12,000 metric tonnes of fish, the average estimate of business is around Rs 140 crore per annum. Besides, a chain of economic activities is going on across the lake as more than four lakh tourists  are visiting the lake every year, helping in additional revenue generation of at least 
Rs 45 crore. Now, you will find air-conditioned  restaurants in villages adjoining the lake. Each primary co-operative society has a corpus fund of 

Rs 30 lakh to Rs 40 lakh. I can say that the lagoon is a good example of restoration of wet land which can pay you back. On the opening of the lake mouth, about Rs 80 lakh was spent and with this the Chilika was brought back to its earlier condition. Now, it is self sustaining. The shrimp collected by the private entrepreneurs  is now exported to Japan. Chilika fish is now a brand.

What is your plan to expand Chilika fish market globally? 

We are initiating steps for certification of the Chilika fish. The certification is called stewardship certification, which is monitored and administered by USA.  World Wide Fund is helping us with this. Once the certification is done, the fish will enter the worldwide market.  But for this, we have to ensure that the Chilika fish remains a pure product. What we have found when the fish is caught from the lake itself, it’s pure and free from any toxic effect. Once it reaches the landing point, the fish sometimes get contaminated because of lack of awareness among the fishermen about the need for maintaining a proper hygienic place. 

We have started giving insulated boxes with the help of Marine Product Export Development Agency (Mpeda) to prevent such kind of contamination. The objective is that they catch the fish, they will put the fish inside the insulated box and take it directly  to the market. With this, the freshness and the colour of the Chilika fish can also be maintained. Besides, we have also planned to set up at least six major landing centres within next two years.

What sort of awareness is being created among fishermen?

With the help of Mpeda, an awareness initiative programme was launched three years ago. From each village, we are taking 20 fishermen to pass on the knowledge about the need to protect the routes of migratory birds. We also tell them how maintaining the a clean and hygienic condition will help them get good money in the coming days. 

Is dolphin population under threat because of intensive boating in the lake?  

Dolphin  population has increased from 80 to 150. There are various types of threats and pressures on the dolphin population. We  commissioned a study to develop a master plan for tourism. It will come up with all regulations by the second week of January. 

There will be a protocol for boats as well. We will replace the existing boat engines with less-noisy electric engines in a phase-wise manner. We will build gateways to Chilika with world-class amenities, including interpretation centres. 

The area surrounding Chilika lake is the breeding ground of all political violence. You must be under pressure because of this…

If you empower the people and give them a meaningful engagement, they will not resort to bloody fights and road blockades. With the intervention of the CDA, a silent social revolution is taking place. For this, you need a robust institution at every stage. CDA’s present structure is able to provide that. 

As chief minister Naveen Patnaik is the chairperson of the CDA and he is  very sensitive to the cause of environment, there is peace around the lake with the support and intervention of the state 
government. The CDA also intervenes to give a sustainable livelihood to lakhs of fishermen.

The Finance Commission has stopped funding for development of Chilika lagoon. It must have pinched you...

Money is a big factor. The Lakota lake in Manipur and Dal Lake in Kashmir used to get more than Rs 500 crore. But with just around Rs 10 crore, we have emerged as one of the best managed eco-systems. However, the state government has taken a decision to extend monetary support to the core areas. 

The state government is committed to provide Rs 50 crore in the next five years. It will solve our problem.  

The World Bank and the Japan International Co-Operation Agency (Jica) are interested to lend money, but we are not keen to take money. We believe in meaningful utilisation of the existing resources


A 1982-batch forest service cadre, Patnaik has proved to be an upright and competent officer

He has 27 years’ experience in planning and managing wetlands, forest, watershed, wildlife and community 
development projects

He has 80 scientific publications to his credit

He passed his matriculation from Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj, graduated from Maharaja Purna Chandra College, Baripada, and did postgraduation in botany from Vani Vihar


From the very beginning I had an aptitude to conduct research on eco system — both terrestrial and aquatic. During the post-graduation, I did some research on plant diversity. Similipal had fascinated me right from the beginning.  My father, who was an advocate, was also a nature lover. Every year, he used to visit Similipal sanctuary twice. He used to take me along with him. There I had met Saroj Ray Choudhury, whose dedicated work inspired me. One of his colleagues, Sarat Mishra, who later retired as divisional forest officer of Chandaka, also fascinated me. It was then that I thought of appearing for the IFS and qualified.


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