Col­lec­tors' cry

Two com­mu­ni­ties de­mand sea­sonal rights un­der the For­est Rights Act to con­tinue their cen­turies-old liveli­hoods inside a wildlife sanc­tu­ary in Gu­jarat |

Down to Earth - - FORESTS - JI­TEN­DRA

IT IS a known fact that Gu­jarat’s Lit­tle Rann of Kutch is the only home left for the Asi­atic Wild Ass. But not many know that it has also pro­vided liveli­hood to two com­mu­ni­ties of shrimp and salt col­lec­tors for cen­turies. While the wild ass pop­u­la­tion flour­ished af­ter the set­ting up of a sanc­tu­ary in 1972, the move has ren­dered the liveli­hood ac­tiv­i­ties of the two com­mu­ni­ties il­le­gal.

Worse, the com­mu­ni­ties have also failed to get respite un­der the For­est Rights Act (fra), 2006, which guar­an­tees land rights to for­est dwellers, be­cause of the sea­sonal na­ture of their liveli­hood. The fish­ing com­mu­nity goes to the sanc­tu­ary dur­ing the rainy sea­son and stays there for three to four months to col­lect shrimps. For the re­main­ing year, the Agaria com­mu­nity, a no­madic tribe, uses the dried Kutch land for salt farm­ing.

While the com­mu­ni­ties con­tinue to fre­quent the sanc­tu­ary, they are sub­jected to ha­rass­ment from the for­est and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cers, and a lo­cal mafia, which thrives on force­fully buy­ing the pro­duce at low prices.

“I was 12 years old when I first ac­com­pa­nied my grand­fa­ther to the re­gion. We stayed there for three months dur­ing the rainy sea­son and col­lected shrimps,” re­calls 52-year-old Ak­bar Gagga, a fish­er­man from Ka­jera vil­lage of Morbi district, which is on the south­west­ern tip of the tri­an­gu­lar Lit­tle Rann of Kutch. He adds that his fam­ily has tra­di­tion­ally been col­lect­ing shrimps from

Women dry shrimps inside the Wild Ass Sanc­tu­ary at Lit­tle Rann of Kutch in Gu­jarat. Over 800 fish­er­folk fam­i­lies mi­grate to the sanc­tu­ary dur­ing the rainy sea­son ev­ery year to col­lect shrimps PHO­TO­GRAPHS: JI­TEN­DRA

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