Skip to main content

Post-monsoon rains, Narmada woes grip Gujarat's 8,000 salt producers of Little Rann

By Pankti Jog*
For the last two days, block officials responsible for disaster mitigation as also other officials are trying their level best to persuade the agariyas of the Rann of Kutch and coastal areas to return to their villages. Four days back, around 150 visitors to the Vaccharajpur Temple, fondly known as ‘Vacchada dada nu mandir’, got stuck in the muddy surroundings, as their vehicles could not move due to sudden rain.
Youths from Zinzuwada villages came to the rescue of the devotees. Only  villagers living in the periphery know the vast expanse of the Rann thoroughly. Just by looking at the mud pattern and humidity they can sense how safe or dangerous could it be during the day. All the devotees were brought back safe.
Two days later, there came the warning of Maha cyclone and heavy rainfall. The local Sankalan Samiti, or the coordination committee, chaired by the deputy collector, met in the presence of the local MLA, discussing several serious issues concerning the Rann, especially hundreds of agariyas, who had already already moved to the Rann for salt cultivation.
No doubt, rainfall at the start of the season usually saves some amount they spend on diesel, which they require to pump out water to make bunds for saltpans and level the beds of the saltpans. This earthen work continues for a month, after which agariyas pour water into saltpans in order to cultivate salt.
“One barrel of crude oil/diesel is saved if we get rain water during this time”, said Keshubhai Surani, one of the salt farmers from Ghatila Rann area, pointing towards the reason why most of the agariyas did not leave Rann despite recent post-monsoon rain. One barrel costs around Rs 12,500, an amount which they usually borrow from trader.
"However", he admitted, “This time, prolonged post-monsoon rains affected us. We wouldn't be able to cultivate crystal salt for more than six months this year.” Traditional salt farmers of the Rann make crystal salt, called Vadagaru, or Poda which takes six months to take the shape of full size crystal to fetch price of up to 24 paisa per kg.
Surani continued, “This time rainfall continued for quite some time. The Rann got filled up with much more water than what we required. Block officials, activists working with the agariyas, belonging to the Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM), and community leaders had to work overtime to evacuate them from the Rann.
These agariyas had already made their makeshift huts, a temporary shelter during their stay in the Rann . But as water levels increased, they were in a dire straits. The whole area got flooded. It was impossible to keep their utensils, blankets, grocery, everything, safe. They had to leave the Rann immediately. They had to walk several kilometres through water with muddy and slippery ground to reach their villages safe. 
Their woes did not end here. Narmada department engineers conveyed to the agariyas that they too would release extra water into the Rann from the Narmada branch canal. They wanted to ensure that the agariya are not trapped, hence they contacted agariya leaders and AHRM team members.
Agariyas told the engineers it was not a good idea to release Narmada water into the Rann. One of the leaders told a senior Narmada engineer, “If Narmada water is released, we will not be able to go into the Rann for another 20 days and continue with salt cultivation.” They were not sure if Narmada officials would listen to their plight.
Meanwhile, water level in some parts of Santalpur and Visanagar Rann started rising. This could happen only if water was being released from the Narmada branch canal. One official confided to an agariya leader off the record, had they not released it, the poorly constructed canal's safety would be at stake.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat government announced compensation for farmers for crop damage due to heavy rainfall this season. However, the salt producers were at a loss: They wouldn't be getting any of it. 
Rued an agariya leader, “Each agariya has suffered huge losses. We have been cultivating salt in Survey No Zero – as the land on which the saltpans are situated is known -- for centuries. No doubt, the government has reaches us with water supply, education, mobile health van, spending huge amount for welfare and development. But when it comes to compensation for our losses, we do not exist”.
“If you look at the past 10 years, every year either agariyas are at a loss due to unseasonal rains, or due to sudden release of Narmada water. Agariyas have been demanding compensation. Sometimes officials do conduct survey and seek details. But no compensation is ever paid”, said Harinesh Pandya, trustee, AHRM, which has been working with the agariya community for the last 15 years.
“On one hand, despite salt farming for decades and centuries, they are deprived of their land use rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). On the other, they are excluded from any protection mechanism like compensation or insurance cover. How can the state behave like this? Why can’t it come up with a fair policy to protect salt farmers? After all they contribute 1/5th of the total salt produced in Gujarat,” he added.
The present and the future of over 8,000 agariya families from nearly 110 villages of Surendranagar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts is at stake. Nature and government both are unkind to agariyas, leaving them at the receiving end.
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative  One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Youngest of 16 activists jailed for sedition, Mahesh Raut 'fought' mining on tribal land

By Surabhi Agarwal, Sandeep Pandey* A compassionate human being, always popular among his friends and colleagues because of his friendly nature and human sensitivity, 33-year-old Mahesh Raut, champion of the democratic rights of the marginalised Adivasi people of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has been in prison for over two years now.

#StandWithStan: It's about Constitution, democracy and freedom of expression

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is more than three weeks now: On the night of October 8, 2020, the 83-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy was taken into custody by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) from his residence in Ranchi to an undisclosed destination. According to his colleagues, the NIA did not serve a warrant on Fr. Stan and that their behaviour was absolutely arrogant and rude.

Stan Swamy vs Arnab Goswami: Are activists fighting a losing battle? Whither justice?

By Fr Sunil Macwan SJ* It is time one raised pertinent questions over the courts denying bail to Fr Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and granting it to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of the Republic TV, arrested under the charge of abetting suicide of Avay Naik, who ended his life in 2018. It is travesty of justice that a human rights activist is not only denied bail but is also made to wait for weeks to hear a response to his legitimate request for a straw to drink water, while Arnab Goswami walks free.

Human development index: India performs worse than G-20 developing countries

By Rajiv Shah A new book, “Sustainable Development in India: A Comparison with the G-20”, authored by Dr Keshab Chandra Mandal, has regretted that though India’s GDP has doubled over the last one decade, its human development indicators are worse than not just developed countries of the Group of 20 countries but also developing countries who its members.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk “Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Namaz in Mathura temple: Haridwar, Ayodhya monks seek Faisal Khan's release

By Our Representative As many as 23 members of the Hindu Voices for Peace (HVP), including the founder president of the well-known Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, Swami Shivananda Saraswati, and a one of its top monks, Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand, have expressed their “dismay” over the arrest of Khudai Khidmatdar chief Faisal Khan and three others on charges of “promoting enmity between religions” and “defiling a place of worship” after they offered namaz in Mathura’s Nand Baba temple premises on October 29.

Government of India 'refuses' to admit: 52% of bird species show declining trend

Finn's Weaver  By Our Representative The Government of India has been pushing out “misleading” data on the country’s drastic wildlife decline, says a well-researched report, pointing towards how top ministers are hiding data on biodiversity losses, even as obfuscating its own data. It quotes “State of India’s Birds Report 2020” to note that of the 261 out of 867 bird species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly.

Dalit, Adivasi protest in Jharkhand against 'illegal' transfer of land for development

By Rishit Neogi Displacement and eviction are not new terms. It is surprising that they are still continuing and have become a tool in the hands of state backed corporates to forcibly occupy lands in the name of development.