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

Young environmentalist's arrest 'sinister', even parents not told of her whereabouts

By Our Representative  The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a civil society network, has said that it is “highly disturbing” that Disha Ravi, a young woman climate activist from Bengaluru was “picked up” in what is referred to as a “closely guarded operation” of the Delhi police. Disha, 21, has been remanded to police custody for five days after she was taken from Bengaluru to Delhi.

Mukesh Ambani's earnings during Covid 'can lift' 40% informal workers out of poverty

By Dr Gian Singh*  The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.

US forensic revelation enough evidence to release Sudha Bharadwaj, others: Civicus

Counterview Desk  Civicus, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organisations and activists claiming to have presence in 175 countries with 9,000 members and working for strengthening citizen action, has sought immediate release of Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in 2018 under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

No Election Commission safeguard against electromagnetic hacking of EVM: Study

Counterview Desk  Releasing a new study simultaneously in Chennai and Kolkata in view of the forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) – a civil society initiative – has regretted “lack of integrity of EVM voting”, pointing out, the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not appear to safeguard against the possibilities of ‘side-channel attacks’, i.e, hacking electronic devices through electromagnetic and other methods.

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”

'Viability' of agricultural cooperatives vs govt proposed pro-corporate economic model

Dr Gian Singh* The farmer struggle started from Punjab against the promulgation of three agricultural ordinances by the Union government in June 2020 and the enactment of three bills by Parliament in September 2020 to replace these ordinances is unique in many respects. There is no other example of such a peaceful and democratic farmer struggle.

Whither right to food? Social security scheme allocation for woman, child 'reduced'

Counterview Desk Pointing out that women and children have been ignored in the Union Budget 2021-22, the advocacy group Right to Food Campaign (RtFC) has said that the Government of India should have taken into account the fact that even after the lockdown was lifted, distress among marginalized communities continues, with people having lower incomes and reduced food consumption.

NAPM extends support to Indian, Aussie citizen groups 'opposing' Adani ventures

#StopAdani action in Australia  Counterview Desk  The civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), extending solidarity to the global campaign by the Youth Action to Stop Adani (YAStA), held in recently in Australia and India, has said that the effort was to bring more attention to the struggle aboriginal, indigenous peoples, farmers, working class and other oppressed communities against allegedly anti-people multinational corporate conglomerates.