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Land and livelihood conflicts in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and mangrove forest , Odisha, India


The Bhitarkanika National Park, in the Kendrapara district of Odisha contains India's second largest mangrove forest, after the Sundarbans, covering 672 km2.  According to the 2011 census, there were 310 villages with 145,301 people living inside the park, which results in a high population density of 216 persons per km2. It was designated as national park on 16 September 1998 and as a Ramsar site on 19 August 2002 due to a large variety of endemic flora and fauna, including the leopard cat, sambar, salt water crocodile, python, water monitor lizards, marine turtle, brahminy duck, to name a few (1).

This high density population of tribal groups dependent on the biodiversity rich forest is a source of triangular dispute between conservationists, small paddy farmers and inland fisherfolks, and the illegal prawn industry. The first major conflict is between the traditional fisherfolks and the forest officials.  Each year there is a ban on fishing in a 20 km radius from the coast for a period of seven months (November 1–May 31) coinciding with the breeding period of the Olive Ridley turtles, which is enforced by the forest department to protect these endangered turtles, under the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1982 and Orissa Marine Fishing Rules, 1983; as a result of which, nearly 20,000 traditional fisherfolk in Kendrapara district are affected every year (Banerjee 2017) (2). They are often arrested for alleged trespassing and their nets and boats seized. In 2014, 221 fishermen were arrested and 32 boats and trawlers were confiscated in the region (3) (4).

Apart from conflicts on livelihood, there have also been conflicts for land rights. The forest department claims rights on the land and seems interested in evacuating the whole village from the area, which has been partially accomplished. Due to which, one can see the decline in the area of the village from 499 acres in 1971 to 244 acres in 2011. Interviews revealed that many people were evicted in the middle of the night as the forest department torched their houses claiming that the land belongs to the government, which has led to various protests and finally, the villagers were forced to migrate to nearby villages (Banerjee 2017).  

Another such protest was witnessed in the year 2001. The villagers protested for two days for the construction of a river embankment  which was affecting their livelihoods but were beaten by the forest department in the process. The embankment was needed as it would prevent the salt water from the creeks from entering the fields. The forest department was not in favour of the embankment since they were of the opinion that the flow of water would be disturbed. Despite this stand off the embankment was constructed. Till date, the people are protesting for their land rights in the region. Most of them have grievances against the government for not granting them their rights and providing better amenities (Banerjee 2017). 

 The second major conflict is between the fisherfolks and the illegal shrimp farms, controlled by the shrimp mafia. Hundreds of farmers of the seaside villages blame the mushrooming of illegal shrimp farms and its effluent for destroying their fertile agricultural lands. Noted environmentalist and president of Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society (MTMCS) Hemant Rout said effluent of the prawn gherries is released into the nearby rivers and ponds. The discharge also pollutes the groundwater in villages. Besides, the illegal farms also pose a direct threat to the nearby rich mangrove forests. In 2017 the district administration and Forest department had demolished large tracts of illegal prawn farms in villages near Bhitarkanika. However, the prawn mafia repaired their gherries and were back in business within two months of the demolition drive. In March 2018, it was reported that the forest officials again demolished illegal prawn gherries within Bhitarkanika National Park. Forest Officer (DFO) of Bhitarkanika, Bimal Prasanna Acharya, said illegal shrimp farms were spreading over 100 acre of forest land at Rangni, Gumura, Sailendranagar and Talachua villages within Bhitarkanika National Park, they had been demolished with help of police. He added: “We will demolish illegal farms over another 2000 acre in many villages within the park soon”. (5)

On May 20, 2015 it had been already reported that in Bhitarkanika National Park, the “shrimp farming mafia” felled mangroves and other trees to make way for shrimp farms blocking the flow of water in the Partasala River, threatening the livelihood of the people.  By building embankments around 5,000 acres of river-side shrimp ponds, the river’s water can’t flow to the sea and is flooding local crops.  In addition, the shrimp farms release their effluents into the fields, which increases the salinity level in the soil. Girija Mandal (62), a farmer of Talachua Village, said, “I used to grow paddy [rice, vegetables] on my two acres of land.  In 2012, some persons converted ten acres of land near my field into shrimp farms and started releasing all the effluents onto my land.  As a result, my land turned barren and is now unfit for raising paddy crops.  Hundreds of other farmers have been ruined due to mushrooming of shrimp gherris." Sources said almost all shrimp farms in Bhitarkanika are illegal as they violate Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms and the directives of Supreme Court and High Court.  It is mandatory for shrimp farms to be registered under Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act and Rules.  But none of the shrimp farms in the national park are registered. (6)

In 2017, the Business Standard reports that the revenue administration decided to resettle 90 families living illegally within the core area of the park. Since then a relocation plan has been proposed to relocate the Bagapatia resettlement colony. However, this move has seen lots of opposition from different sides, as people are claiming their rights over the territory [7]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Land and livelihood conflicts in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and mangrove forest , Odisha, India
State or province:Odisha
Location of conflict:Kendrapara
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Designated as national park on 16 September 1998 and as a Ramsar site on 19 August 2002 due to a large variety of endemic flora and fauna, including the leopard cat, sambar, salt water crocodile, python, water monitor lizards, marine turtle, brahminy duck. A mangrove forest covering 672 The Bhitarkanika Mangroves are home to 55 of India's 58 known mangrove species. The mangroves harbor one of India's largest populations of saltwater crocodiles, and Gahirmatha Beach, which separates the mangroves from the Bay of Bengal, is the world's most important nesting beach for Olive Ridley sea turtles.

Project area:65,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:145 000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1997
Relevant government actors:Bhitarkanika National Park.
Ministry of Environments and Forests, MOEF (India).
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society (MTMCS).

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:There is hope that ecotourism in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (BKWS) may be able to empower the local inhabitants economically, socially as well culturally. (8).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Villagers find themselves placed between regulations and displacements by the park authorities on the one side, and pressure from shrimp farmers destroying mangroves, on the other side. Wildlife (e.g. number of crocodiles) has been increasing, so conservationists are pleased.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1982

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Subhashree Banerjee, 2017. Economic and Political Weekly. The Tragedy of Fishing Communities: A Story from Vetka Village, Odisha

8. Madhumita Das. Ecotourism_and_Empowerment._A_Case_Analysis_of_Bhitarkanika_Wildlife_Sanctuary_Odisha_India

5. Illegal shrimp farming within the national park

3. Fishermen arrested for fishing in Bhitarkanika National Park.

2. 7 months of fishing ban imposed

1. Information about the National Park from the official website

6. Dual threat of tree felling and illegal prawn fishing within the national park

4. More newspaper report on the fishing ban for conservation of olive ridley turtles

[7] Business Standard "Relocation plan for encroachers of Bhitarkanika national park". October 25, 2017.

Other documents

Ecological History of an Ecosystem Under Pressure: The Case of Bhitarkanika in Odisha by Subhashree Banerjee

Meta information

Contributor:Brototi Roy
Last update07/06/2018



Map of Bhitarkanika


A crocodile at Bhitarkanika National Park. Telegraph picture