Fight for the rights

Down to Earth - - FORESTS -

the re­gion. It is their pri­mary source of in­come. Like Gagga, over 800 fish­er­folk fam­i­lies re­sid­ing in over 150 vil­lages of Kachchh, Patan, Suren­drana­gar, Ra­jkot and Morbi dis­tricts col­lect shrimps dur­ing the rainy sea­son in the sanc­tu­ary. Dur­ing the mon­soon, a stretch of 150 sq km within the 5,000 sq km sanc­tu­ary gets sub­merged in knee-deep muddy wa­ter, which is con­ducive to shrimps.

Sea­sonal trou­bles

The two com­mu­ni­ties have been de­mand­ing sea­sonal land rights un­der fra. “The unique as­pect of their de­mand is that it is not for the land, but for the re­sources and that too for a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod ev­ery year,” says Hari­nesh Pandya of Jan­path, an Ahmed­abad-based non-profit work­ing for the rights of the Agaria and fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

While the for­est de­part­ment says it is il­le­gal to col­lect shrimps in the sanc­tu­ary, the fish­eries de­part­ment con­tin­ues to is­sue li­cences to the in­di­vid­u­als ev­ery year to fish in the area. The annual li­cence, which costs `200, clearly states that in­di­vid­u­als are al­lowed to fish in the area.

This con­fu­sion has led to ram­pant ex­ploita­tion of the com­mu­nity. The fish­ers say that the shrimp pro­duced in the area is or­ganic and of good qual­ity. “We are not al­lowed to sell the pro­duce in the mar­ket. In­stead, a nexus of goons and for­est of­fi­cials forces us to sell them the pro­duce at a cheap price. They then make wind­fall prof­its,” says Gagga. He adds that the goons nor­mally buy a kg of shrimps for `15 and then sell it for more than `100 a kg in the mar­ket.

The com­mu­nity also al­leges that it pays for­est of­fi­cials `200 a boat as bribe and com­plains of reg­u­lar ha­rass­ment and phys­i­cal abuse by the of­fi­cials. “The rea­son we still come here ev­ery year, de­spite the hard­ships, is that this is our pri­mary source of in­come. A fam­ily nor­mally earns around `30,000 in the three months, which al­lows it to sur­vive the en­tire year,” he says.

Bharat Bhai, a leader of the two com­mu­ni­ties, says the Agaria com­mu­nity, which has over 4,500 fam­i­lies, has to en­dure ha­rass­ment for seven to eight months a year. “For­est of­fi­cials reg­u­larly break our im­ple­ments and seize our trac­tors,” says Mahipal Bhai Dawa Bhai, a 55-year-old salt farmer Sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try are try­ing to gain sea­sonal rights un­der the For­est Rights Act, 2006

Com­mu­nity: De­mand: Location:

Van Gu­j­jar Graz­ing rights Ra­jaji National Park




Fish­ing shrimp and ex­tract­ing salt Lit­tle Rann of Kutch


Agaria and from the com­mu­nity. He says that atroc­i­ties forced the com­mu­nity to form an as­so­ci­a­tion in 2001 called the Agaria Hi­trak­shak Manch. “The salt in the re­gion is good for the heart be­cause it is low in sodium and sil­ica and high in cal­cium and mag­ne­sium,” says Pandya.

The lead­ers from the two com­mu­ni­ties say the be­lief of the for­est of­fi­cials that the com­mu­ni­ties are a threat to the wild asses is un­founded. “The com­mu­ni­ties have for long co­ex­isted with the lo­cal wild an­i­mals and their liveli­hood is not de­pen­dent on the an­i­mals. In fact, wild asses sel­dom come to the area where they fish or col­lect salt be­cause it is close to the ocean,” says Pankti Jog of Jan­path. She adds that the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties and the wild ass has in­creased the an­i­mal’s pop­u­la­tion from 273 in 1972 to over 5,000 to­day.

Slow change

Ranch­hor Bhai, a leader of the two com­mu­ni­ties from Miyani vil­lage, which is on the out­skirts of the sanc­tu­ary, says that ha­rass­ment

Com­mu­ni­ties: De­mand: Location:

Kin­naur, Gaddi, Kanait and Gu­j­jar Graz­ing rights Dhaulad­har Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, Great Hi­malaya and Pin Val­ley national parks

by for­est of­fi­cials has re­duced af­ter the fish­ing com­mu­nity in 2013 met the then chief min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to de­mand for rights inside the sanc­tu­ary. “But cor­rup­tion re­mains ram­pant,” he says.

Udit Agar­wal, district col­lec­tor of Suren­drana­gar, says his ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing to pro­vide sea­sonal rights to the com­mu­ni­ties. “We are con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing the Agaria com­mu­nity to col­lect salt from the area. We have ini­ti­ated the process of con­sult­ing all the par­ties in­volved to work out a plan,” he says. C V Sanje, range for­est of­fi­cer, Lit­tle Rann of Kutch, says for­est of­fi­cials co­op­er­ate with the com­mu­ni­ties, but “we also have to pro­tect the wildlife sanc­tu­ary”. He adds that while com­mu­nity lead­ers claim that politi­cians have as­sured them of rights un­der fra, noth­ing has been done of­fi­cially. Even Kachchh district col­lec­tor M A Gandhi says he is not aware of an fra de­mand in the re­gion. “Is­su­ing sea­sonal rights is not pos­si­ble un­der the law. I will dis­cuss it with my of­fi­cers and look at the impact it will have on the wild ass sanc­tu­ary,” says Gandhi.

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