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BJP MLAs join activists, protest Gujarat govt barring Agariyas from Little Rann of Kutch

By Pankti Jog* 

Gujarat has been producing more than 73% of India’s total salt production. Salt is produced in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) and along the coastal areas of the state. The one produced in Little Rann of Kutch is called as “Vadagaru Salt” or Gangadavalu or Ganga-type salt, and has the history of over 600 years. The traditional communities possessing skill of making crystal salt inside LRK are recognized as Agariyas in Gujarat.
As per a survey, carried out by the Gujarat government, just around 7,000 to 8,000 families from Surendrnagar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch earn their livelihood by making salt. They migrate to the LRK in the month of September and reside inside the area for eight months for their salt farming activity.
The LRK was declared a sanctuary in 1973. However, the Agariyas inside LRK are yet to get recognition of their traditional rights as salt farmers. The survey and settlement process for the Wild Ass Sanctuary started in 1997; however, it was not undertaken proactively, hence, majority of the traditional Agariyas were not included in the list prepared in the survey and settlement report.
Recently, the Gujarat forest department announced that Agariyas, whose names are not included in the survey and settlement report, will not be permitted to go inside and start salt farming. When they read out names in 16 villages of Patadi block in Surendranagar district, the it was revealed that 95% of the traditional Agariyas have been left out in the survey and settlement report. Same is the situation in most of the other areas, too. Agariyas feet threatened that they they would lose their livelihood permanently.
Over the last fortnight, the Agairyas of Surendranagar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts have made representation to their MLAs and requested them to intervene into the matter.
On July 18, four BJP MLAs -- namely Kantibhai Amrutiya, PK Parmar, Prakashbhai Varmora and Lavingjii Thakor – joined Agariya activists from Maliya, Haldvad, Patadi, Dhangadhra and Santalpur blocks – around 60 of them – to make representation to chief minister Bhupendra Patel and Mulubhai Bera, state minister for forests and environment.
The MLAs represented that since the survey and settlement report does not include traditional Agariyas, the government needs to have re-survey inside the Rann area to mark “traditional Agariyas salt farms” through the GPS location facility in order to recognize their traditional livelihood rights inside Wild Ass Sanctuary.
Agariyas and Ghudkhars (wild asses) have been co-existing in the Wild Ass Sanctuary for decades, and number of wild asses has crossed the 6,000 mark, highest ever, as per the latest census. Moreover, the Agariyas use only 6% of the total of 12 lakh acres of the sanctuary land. Thus, it high time that the government take policy decision for recognizing the salt farming rights in the Wild Ass Sanctuary and secure livelihood of around 45,000 people.
It must be noted that the expert committee on salt constituted by the Government of India in 1948 had said that traditional Agariyas farming salt below 10 acres need not require any registration of leases or licenses, and they need not pay any cess. 
Since the Liittle Rann of Kutch is an un-surveyed land, its revenue records are neither available at panchayat offices, not to talk of Agariyas. In such circumstances, it is very important that the Agariyas’ salt farming rights inside LRK are recognized on the basis of historical evidences, including gram sabha resolutions.
---
*Human rights activist

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