Skip to main content

Gujarat's 10,000 Rann of Kutch saltpan families' voting right hangs fire as state assembly polls approach

The Rann of Kutch, Gujarat: A community gathering
By Pankti Jog*
Would Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch agariyas, or saltpan workers, who migrate, live and work on what has now come to be popularly known as Survey No Zero for six months starting with September, exercise their voting rights this December, when the state goes to polls?
While agariyas, a denotified tribe, have become more conscious and aware of the power of their vote, their livelihood option of working deep inside the Rann of Kutch forces them not to return to their villages, which are tens of kilometres way, to actually exercise the voting right. Not without reason, very few percentage of agariya population actually vote.
Two well-known NGOs, Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM) and Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) recently made written representation to the chief electoral officer (CEO), Election Commission of India, Gujarat, requesting him to make some arrangements for the agariyas so that they could vote this time.
The CEO, however, has sent letter to the district electoral officer (DEO) of only one district, Surendranagar, asking the mapping of agariyas in the Rann, though they belong to three other districts – Patan, Morbi and Kutch. Yet, this was for the first time that electoral rolls were read out to mark agariyas in the Rann.
A virtual desert, from September onwards till April, over 50,000 people (8,000 to 10,000 families) reside in the Rann. They are involved in their traditional occupation – of farming crystal salt by extracting water from 40 to 110 ft depth, and spreading it in different pans. Salt pans are known as “agars”. On an average there are three voters per family.
The issue is: With the polls approaching, would similar circulars be expected for Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts? Agariya community leaders, associated with AHRM, have requested the election machinery to provide either transport facility or mobile polling booth in the Rann, especially for agariya women voters, to vote in a fair manner. Will it oblige?
Pankti Jog examining electoral list with agariya women
The families who migrate to the Survey No Zero (which is an un-surveyed triangular mud desert bearing 4992.53 sq km area lying between Surendrangar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts) are residents of over 107 villages of six blocks of the four districts. They migrate into the Rann of Kutch and reside at a distance that ranges from 20 to 70 km. 
Following efforts by the two NGOs and local activists, the government has started Rann-shalas, began supplying drinking water through tankers, and sending mobile health vans to this population. Male member of the family return to their villages once a month to buy grocery, but female members hardly get to visit their villages unless in case of health emergency. Bicycle is the only means of transport here.
Saltpan workers identify their names in electoral roll
Life in Survey No Zero is hard. The Rann, which is also Wild Ass Sanctuary, gets flooded during monsoon with waters from rivers like Banas, Rupenand Saraswati. On the other hand, saline water from the sea enters from the Maliya area, which is called as mouth of the Rann, turning this into a brackish water body, famous for prawn fishing. During this period, fishing activity is carried out by a denotified tribe called Miyana.
The planning of polling booths has begun for all the villages, towns and cities, yet most of the Survey No Zero remains out of reach. Should one expect that the agariyas would travel from up to 70 km distance to their respective villages on the polling day on their own, or allow some political party take advantage of the situation to send vehicles?
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel

Comments

TRENDING

Amit Shah 'wrong': Lack of transparency characterized bank frauds, NPAs, jobs data

Counterview Desk
India's senior RTI activists Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venktesh Nayak, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan, who are attached with the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), have said that Union home minister Amit Shah's claim that the Government of India is committed to transparency stands in sharp contrast to its actual actions.

Untold story of Jammu: Business 'down', students fear lynching, teachers can't speak

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released report, seeking to debunk the view that people in Jammu, the second biggest city of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Srinagar, people had gone “out celebrating” abrogation of Article 370 which took away the state’s special status, has reported what it calls “abominably high levels of fear” across all sections in the town.

Kashmiris in a civil disobedience mode, are going against 'diktat' to open shops

Counterview Desk
A team of concerned citizens, including Ludhiana-based psychiatrist and writer Anirudh Kala, Mumbai-based activist and public health professional Brinelle Dsouza, Delhi-based journalist and writer Revati Laul, and social activist Shabnam Hashmi, travelled to Kashmir and Jammu to understand the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent security clampdown and communication blockade on the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…

Success of 'political' Hinduism: Kashmiris being depicted as antagonists of rest of India

By Anand K Sahay*
There are times in history when facts call attention to themselves; they assert their independence in all its amplitude and are in no need of the crutch of interpretation. Such a moment is visible in Kashmir now. Merely by being on the table, the facts there taunt the regime’s proclamations.