LITIGATION BRIEF OUTLINE

The proposed Tadadi port, a category project included under the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2006, has been examined by the Expert Appraisal​ Committee (EAC). On the recommendation of the EAC, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has to grant the Environmental Clearance.

If the Environmental Clearance is granted, it can be challenged before the National Green Tribunal. On the basis of the study of documents and reports, and interactions with stakeholders, the group has prepared a brief outline for a litigation brief, as one of our outputs from the project.
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STAKEHOLDER MEETING: A DIALOGUE ON ECOLOGY AND LIVELIHOODS

On the 22nd of March, the Centre for Ecological Studies from the Indian Institute of Science along with CPR-Namati and Panchabhuta organised a meeting for all the stakeholders of the Aghanashini River. The Ecological Justice team was invited to attend the meeting which would give us a better understanding of how the communities and the river are intertwined.

The meeting was presided by Dr. Subhash Chandran from IISC, Dr. T.V. Ramachandran from IISC, Mr. M.R. Hegde, Mr. Mangal Shetty from Panchabhuta, Mr. Shivananda Hegde (member of Zilla Parishad) and Mr. Pradeep Nayak (Zilla Parishad member). The meeting stakeholders who attended were primarily river and estuarine fishermen, and bivalve collectors. A smattering of other stakeholders put the numbers who attended the meeting at approximately 80 persons.

Dr. Subhash Chandran stated off the meeting with a small introduction of the river. He stated facts and figures that make this river so unique. He stated that the significance of this meeting was to understand the relationship between the river and its stakeholders. Mr Shivananda Hegde spoke on estuarine fishing and bivalve collection and how these fishermen require better protection. He highlighted the importance of the mangroves and remarked the rampant sand mining needs to be limited. Mr. MR Hegde explained the role of the river in relation to the farming community. He also explained the history of the Aghanashini River. Mr. Pradeep Nayak was forthcoming about the impact of the port and explained how the river was ecologically sensitive. Dr. TV Ramachandran summarised what was stated by the members on the dais. He also called the community to come forward to protect and preserve the river. He urged them stakeholders to be active as their participation would result in the protection of the river.

IMG_20170322_110930900 (1)Picture 1: Professor MD Subhash Chandran giving his presentation on the Aghanashini river

This was then followed by a question and answer session where the stakeholders were allowed to put forth their grievances in the hopes that these grievances would be addressed as effectively as possible. While most of the grievances were issues of land being surveyed wrong, small scuffles between different communities, a common grievance was the loss of bivalves due to sand mining and shell mining. The issue of sand mining was also brought up by the fishermen as unregulated sand mining had adverse impact on the fishing. The effectiveness of the BMC was also questioned. These grievances were noted by the IISC members and they promised to try and get these issues resolved.

IMG_20170322_121411704

Picture 2: Dr. TV Ramachandran and a representative of the Fishing Community engage in a dialogue.

The meeting also saw the presence of two prominent members of the Kumta society. A member of the Department of Fisheries, Mr. Hegde put forth a suggestion to have a separate body that would deal solely with matters of the estuary. This body would consist of members from the estuary and hence, they would be well versed with all the issues of that particular area. Mr. Ganapathi Naik, a historian painted a beautiful picture of the history and the evolving landscape of the proposed port site at Hiregutti. His narrative explained the transformation of fertile ghazni lands into the mangroves and how it has impacted the members of the Hiregutti village.

IMG_20170322_170120_HDRPicture 3: An interaction with the representative from the Department of Fisheries

This meeting provided us with a better understanding of how the stakeholders interact with the river. All our previous engagements with the communities were in an informal setting. This meeting, being slightly more formal, saw the stakeholders come out with a list of problems to which they has solutions and suggestion ready. Participating in this meeting gave us a clearer picture of how intertwined the life of this river is with its stakeholders.

 

Priyanka Rao

    Picture 4: Posters prepared by the IISC team, displayed at the stakeholder meeting

                        Picture 5: Local Newspaper articles published after the meeting

IMG_20170322_152158_HDR

Picture 6: Attending members of the Ecological Justice team with the IISC team.

TRACING THE EIA PROCESS OF THE PROPOSED TADADI PORT

The Tadadi port was proposed to service the Bellary-Hospet hinterland in northern Karnataka for exporting iron ore and steel. The port has been proposed to be developed in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model with the Karnataka State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation Ltd (KSIIDC) initiating the planning and clearance process. The private proponent has not been determined, although there are media reports that the Adani group has indicated an interest in the port.

The TOR for the EIA was prescribed by the EAC on 18 August, 2011, and the final EIA Report was submitted in September, 2015. The public hearing was held on 23 March, 2015. Eventually, on 26th December, 2016, the EAC recommended the project for clearance subject to certain conditions.

The EIA process of the port was flawed on many counts – procedurally and substantively. Procedurally, the baseline data was collected by the proponent even before the TOR was prescribed, and that too for a single season. Although additional studies were asked for by the EAC subsequently, they did not cure the initial defect.

The EIA Report itself does not question the viability or rationale of the project, particularly in the context of development of other ports along the same coastal stretch. In fact, the feasibility study notes that expansion of existing ports would affect the viability of the Tadadi port. The economic viability of the project itself is questionable. In terms of economic viability, the Aghanashini is prone to high siltation, and the de-silting operations would entail very high maintenance costs. The economic and ecological costs of such desilting are not accounted for.

The EIA Report is incomplete and misleading in many respects. The Aghanashini ecosystem features of the estuary and the dependent livelihoods have been considered in a perfunctionary manner. Studies on the changes in the drainage patterns, the impact of the diversion of water from the Gangaveli river, anticipated shoreline changes have not been conducted. The EIA Report mentions that detailed studies will be conducted by the proposed developer. While it acknowledges that the estuary supports a highly productive ecosystem for bivalve collection, it merely states that “prior to the development of the port, a detailed environmental management plan will be further firmed up”. Likewise, the impact on fishing is proposed to be taken up through a separate study at a later point. Though these concerns have been flagged at the TOR stage, they have not been addressed in the EIA Report. In fact, these additional ‘comprehensive’ studies, when they are conducted, will have no bearing on the decision on the project itself. More importantly, the clearance proposal considers cargo of 34.25 MTPA, but mentions in passing that the port would eventually be expanded to 62.36 MTPA. The eventual increased capacity to almost double the capacity has not been considered.

There was no meaningful public consultation. There were information gaps about the impacts of the port – most people were not aware of impacts of dredging, or the restrictions in accessing marine areas due to ship movements and port operations. The public hearing that was held was without an explanation of the impacts on the ecology and natural resource dependent livelihoods in the region. Attendants also claimed that the hearing was not conducted in a neutral manner. Persons speaking in opposition to the port were disrupted and the minutes of the public hearing did not accurately describe the objections that were raised. In addition to the public hearing, conservation scientists, ecologists and civil society organizations sent comments to the EAC. While these concerns were forwarded to the project proponent, the EAC did not examine whether the response of the port developers was satisfactory.

Finally, the recommendation of EC itself comes with several conditions, including mitigation and management measures. To illustrate, the conditions include drawing up management plans for the impact on the mudflats, maintaining free flow of river water and ensuring that there are no changes to the shoreline. These conditions, however, are impractical and futile. The decision-making on the port should have considered the viability of these assurances, rather than relying on these ‘management’ measures.

The EC process of the Tadadi port demonstrates the gap between the legal provisions and their implementation. This case study is symptomatic of the larger EIA processes in the country.

 

Preeta Dhar

BHOOMI KATHE: STORY OF THE LAND

This documentary, made by the members of the Ecological Justice Field Group presents the historical narratives of land acquisition in the Hiregutti panchayat of the Kumta Taluk in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. Hiregutti is a part of 1848 acres of land that was acquired by the Karnataka State Government in 1970s, and was subsequently leased out to various industries, leading to changes in the economic and ecological value of the land, and the manner in which the communities living in the area used it.

The land in Hiregutti was very fertile, and was mainly used for estuarine kagga farming. ‘Kagga’ is a unique variety of salt resistant paddy, grown in the brackish waters in the region, in embankments, built along the backwaters of the Aghanashini estuary, on what are called ‘gajni’ lands

Post the acquisition of the land by the Karnataka Government, it was handed over to ‘Karnataka Industries and Development Board’ in 1973, who then went on to lease out this land to various industries over the years. The first development intervention was that of a caustic soda factory by Bellarpur Industries, to manufacture salt in the region. This led to the formation of ‘Gajni Land owners, Tenants and Workers Protection Committee’ in Hiregutti in 1986, to fight the case for the land that was being snatched away from them, leading to them filing a petition at the High Court in Karnataka, to get their land back; which was rejected. Subsequently the Ballarpur Industries Ltd. abandoned salt production in these lands. Post this incident, the community resistance to the unjust take over of the land strengthened, as they later managed to mobilise themselves and contact the state and central government, to disallow the construction of a Thermal power plant in Hiregutti in 2003.

With the increasing industrial intervention and the growth of aquaculture (shrimp breeding), kagga farming started to decline in the area, and now it is almost non-existent. In the process, the land has been ravaged, and made infertile; communities have been displaced, and are yet to be adequately compensated for the land that was snatched away from them. “Development” can thus lead to spatial and temporal consequences, that affect the way the land is used, and this becomes more acute for the communities whose livelihoods are dependent on that land.

Now, there is a proposal for a multi purpose port to be built in the same area, for which 1400 acres of the acquired land has been handed over by KIADB to an undisclosed PPP project. By documenting the history of the land in Hiregutti through the oral narratives of people, we try to understand the politics of land acquisition that has been taking place for the past 45 years, which is now giving way to the port.

Recently, the Environment Appraisal Commitee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests gave the clearance for this port. As the impending threat of a port gets closer, it raises new questions on the process of accumulation that may occur with further transformation of the land.

Note: This video is in Kannada, but we will add english subtitles to it very soon.

 

Vaishnavi Varadarajan

MEETING WITH THE BIODIVERSITY BOARD

The group met with the member secretary of Karnataka Biodiversity Board on 3rd of February 2017 in the state office of Karnataka Bio Diversity board at Bangalore. The group discussed various aspects with the member secretary. The member secretary was aghast at the lack of executive powers of the board. When asked about the proposal of declaring a specific area of mudflats as Biodiversity heritage site, the member secretary replied that they had contacted the Department of Forestry about it. The proposal was submitted in 2010 and the board has not received any communication from the Department of Forestry about the Proposal of declaring the mudflats of Aghanashani  as Bio diversity Heritage site.

It seemed that the member secretary was deeply concerned about the environmental damage happening across the region but was also aghast that despite being a statutory body nobody in the state bureaucracy is consulting them. He assured the group that the Board will write again to the department of forests about the proposal of declaration of Aghanashani mudflats as bio diversity heritage site.

The Member secretary expressed ignorance about the plan of constructing of a mega commercial port in the ecologically sensitive estuary of Aghanashani. He claimed that they have been sent no official communication yet regarding this project by any organ of the state.

The group also interacted with the deputy director of the KBB who was of the view that the board has limited functions and cannot go beyond that. The conservation issue or the threat to ecology by way of pollution or degradation is to be dealt by  the Pollution control Board. He claimed that the nearby Netrani Island which is under the Administration of Navy, who use it for Target purposes and diving in sea, these practices have been challenged in High court, the matter is sub-Judice and that is why they have not made any progress on the Tadadi Proposal as the Netrani Island is not so far from the Aghanashani Estuary. He claimed that the board lacks resources and powers to do anything big in conservation and preservation of ecology other than documenting them at local level.

Junaid Ul-Shafi

A RARE, PRISTINE ESTAURY COMES UNDER THREAT IN KARNATAKA

The construction of a multi-purpose estuarine port in the Aghanashini – one of Karnataka’s last free-flowing rivers – will result in damage to the ecosystem and the loss of traditional livelihoods.

Tadadi, Karnataka: When the tides are low at the mouth of the Aghanashini river, women from the village walk out onto the mudflats to collect oysters and mussels. Salt pans and mangroves outline the estuary, and in the distance is the busy fishing port at Tadadi.

The Aghanashini is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Karnataka: it has no major industrial establishments, dams or townships on its banks. From the Western Ghats, it carries to its estuary nutrients that support about 80 species of fish, nine species of edible bivalves (such as oysters, clams and mussels) and 120 species of birds in its estuarine area. Along with its dense mangroves, this biodiversity makes the Aghanashini estuary almost ecologically unique.

It was in this rich and highly productive estuary that, in 2009, the Karnataka State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (KSIIDC) proposed to build a multi-purpose estuarine port. In late 2016, an expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests recommended environmental and coastal regulation zone clearances for the project. It is now one last step away from final clearance by the ministry, which is likely to be granted – regardless of the damage to the ecosystem, its aquatic species and the loss of traditional livelihoods.

Major concerns during the public consultation

On behalf of the industrial body, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in Nagpur conducted an environmental impact assessment of the proposed port. Pollution Control Board (PCB) held a public hearing on March 23, 2015, and the minutes of the hearing reveal that the draft impact assessment report was severely criticised. About 300 written representations were also received by the PCB. Most complained about the lack of consideration of the ecology and economic productivity of the estuary in preparing the environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The proposed port is a multipurpose all-weather port with seven berths, six of them for handling and transporting coal, iron and steel. Unlike a seaport, the port is to be constructed inside the estuary, on 1400 acres acquired by the KSIIDC in the 1970s near Nushikotte village. The land was originally a gazni land known as ‘midlagazni’, where the salt-tolerant Kagga rice was cultivated alongside natural fish-farming around the estuary. Now submerged, the land is in intertidal zone of the Aghanashini estuary, consisting of mudflats and mangroves.

These facts were noted by National Institute of Oceanography, the agency that has delineated the coastal regulation zone for the purposes for port development: The agency classified this proposed port land as CRZ I-A (‘ecologically sensitive area’) and CRZ I-B (‘intertidal area’). The construction will require filling up this part of the intertidal estuarine area, destroying 200 ha of well-grown mangroves, and the loss of bio-active mudflats, which will be dredged to create shipping channels.

The construction of the port will also affect the livelihoods in more than 25 villages of the Kumta taluk. Fishing, both marine and estuarine, is one of the major occupations of the region, engaging about 6,000 residents. Mangrove in the estuary acts as the major breeding ground and nursery for marine fish. The estuary also sustains villagers who catch crabs, shrimps and bivalves, as well as farmers, salt-workers, and traditional sand- and shell-miners. A study by the Indian Institute of Science values the income from informal bivalve fishing and shell-mining at Rs 5.7 crore per year – which stands to be lost to dredging.

Pollution is another concern – life in the area will be severely affected by any spills or contamination by iron, steel or oil from the ships and port. “We welcome the port, but we are very apprehensive of having so much iron, coal and steel stored in the estuary,” one aqua-culturalist and farmer in Kaggal village said. “We do not want pollution in our land, water or air.”

Pitfalls in the EIA appraisal

The EAC was proactive about calling for additional studies in December 2015. But the committee turned lenient, recommending the port for clearance even though additional studies by KSIIDC ignored key concerns raised during the public hearing. With respect to the mudflats, for instance, the project proponent stated that mudflats would be protected or shifted to another location. According to Dr. Subhash Chandran of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, “It is a ridiculous and unscientific idea to even think of shifting such a natural habitat elsewhere in a small estuary like Aghanashini.”

The EAC also recommended the project despite the lack of adequate primary data on the livelihoods offered by the estuary, especially by the oyster bed on the mudflats. They merely made it a condition that a study of economic value of the species in the oyster bed be conducted. This precludes any cost-benefit analysis by the EAC on allowing the project at the cost of lost livelihoods.

Efforts made by different organisations to conserve the area have also been ignored. According to the range officer at Hiregutti, the forest department proposed to declare 318 ha of mangroves near the Nushikotte village as ‘deemed forest’. The Honnavar Forest division has attempted to promote mangrove-based tourism and educational programmes here. The Centre for Ecological Sciences of IISc, proposed to the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board that the biologically active mudflats near Aghanashini village and the mangroves near Kaggal and Masur villages be declared as ‘Biodiversity Heritage Sites’, under the Biological Diversity Act of 2002.

The Bivalve Collectors’ Union proposed to the Karnataka State Coastal Zone Management Authority that the entire estuary be declared as a ‘critical vulnerable coastal area’. These proposals are still under consideration before the respective authorities; authorities whom the EAC never consulted.

There is also a larger issue of the necessity of the port. From KSIIDC’s feasibility report, it appears that iron is already transported in the northern region of Karnataka (Bellary-Hospet) through ports in Karwar and Belikere. The feasibility report was prepared in 2009, when illegal mining of iron ore in the Bellary region was rampant. Since the crackdown on illegal mining in 2010, the project proponent has not re-evaluated the quantum of iron available for export through Tadadi. Although this issue was raised in the public hearing, the EAC has not considered it.

Finally, the EAC never weighed the necessity of developing a port of such a size (62.36 million tonnes per annum) designed to facilitate industries that are essentially emitting greenhouse gases. This larger oversight reveals the failure of government bodies to bring climate concerns into decision-making – one final and damning level on which the Tadadi port project might be flawed and self-destructive.

This article was written by our group member, Alphonsa Jojan and was published on the Wire. You can find the link herehttps://thewire.in/131667/a-rare-pristine-estuary-comes-under-threat-in-karnataka/

ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION OF THE COASTAL COMMONS: TRACING THE DECLINE OF KAGGA FARMING

Capitalism is a working and evolving ecological system within which both nature and capital are constantly being produced and reproduced.”- David Harvey (2004,247)

Kumta is a highly biodiverse region, which stands out for its pristine beauty and abundance of natural resources. It is also known for its traditional agricultural system, which is done on what are called ‘gazni‘ lands, to grow a salt resistant variety of rice called ‘kagga‘, unique to this region. This age old system developed by the embankments of vast stretches of shallow backwaters along the Aghanashini Estuary. These gazni lands cover about 3,500 ha in the Kumta taluk and 90% of these lands lie bordering the Aghanashini. With the use of entirely natural and organic processes, these gaznis offered a stable livelihood to many, who grew a crop that fetched quite a surplus, with limited harm to the ecology of the region.But soon outside forces, in the form of fishing contractors and canning industries, entered the arena of the backwaters with a cascading effect on the ecosystem, economy and social harmony of the region.

IMG_20161123_151717Picture 1: Gazni lands which were earlier used for kagga farming

In this article, we will be tracing the decline of kagga farming in the region, its social and ecological impacts, and the failed attempts to revive these traditional agricultural practices in the face of increasing land acquisition in the area to facilitate development interventions.

Traditional common property resources: Kagga farming and natural fishing

These gazni lands were cultivated under a cooperative farming system, wherein each gazni was co-owned by a large group of farmers,   who took part physically in the farming process and shared returns amongst each other. By insisting on the shareholder being a worker in the gazni activities, the system removes ‘absentee landlords’ from the benefit sharing process, while ensuring that all stakeholders are appropriately benefited according to their contribution. This was a unique model of traditional management of common property resources.

People belonging to the ‘Patgar‘ community were the dominant groups that specialised in this form of agriculture, but it was also done by Namdharis, Halakkivokkals and other caste groups. The Patgars are known to possess the traditional knowledge to maintain these fields, control water flow, build and repair embankments and other agricultural operations. They took the initiative of planting mangrove trees along earthen dams, as its roots prevented erosion. Mangroves also led to increased production of fish as they increase nutrient supply in the estuary, and also because the babies of prawns and crabs take shelter in its roots.

During the tides, salt water would find a way inside the gaznis through a system of natural drainage channels known as kodis. The flow of the water through the kodis was controlled by various sluice gates, which facilitated the drainage of the fields. In the pre-monsoon weeks, around the end of May, the gates were closed after salt water was drained. Subsequent to the rainy season of June and July, gaznis would refill and then the kagga rice seeds were planted.  During harvest season in November, free flow of tidal waters was allowed into the kodis with the opening of the sluice gates. After the rice was taken out, fishing activities were permitted in the gaznis through mutual understanding between the fishermen and farmers. Customarily, only 3 to 4 families would practice natural fishing in one kodi, and they never violated their borderlines. They fitted nets called gantivale, towards the mouth of the kodi, to trap the fish that would be leaving the gaznis during low tide. They also used a scooping net called gorubale, to fish inside the kodis, any time of the year, by placing it against the flow.

This form of paddy cum fish cultivation was highly sustainable. The local community management system of the estuary never encouraged exhaustive fishing, compared to the scale it is done today. The practice of planting mangroves and earthen building (rather than stones and dykes used today), minimised the human impact on these estuarine ecosystems, ensuring their sustainable use.

Government intervention in kagga fields

This system underwent a change in the 1970s when the Karnataka government took a policy decision to build permanent stone dams on the mud embankments of gajni lands, under the Kharland Development Scheme, in order to protect the fields from increasing salt water intrusion. However this move had an impact on the use of this land, leading to further ecological and socio-economic changes. This not only led to the destruction of mangroves on the side of the embankments, but also led to stagnation in many parts of the gaznis due to lesser sluice gates.These ill-drained areas soon became unfit for cultivation of rice.

IMG_20161123_151324170Picture 2: Sluice gates at the side of gazni fields, with stone embankments

With the building of these bunds, farmers now began to auction fishing rights to contractors, on an annual basis.Traditional fishermen thus became the victims of this development as they were  no longer allowed to fish in the gaznisexcept for few weeks after the expiry of the fishing contract period, in June, just prior to prepare the gazni for the next crop.

This then led to a legal battle between farmers and fishermen. The decision in the district court was ruled in favour of the farmers because of their stronger lobby at the time, however it was reversed on going to the High Court. Although the High Court of Karnataka upheld the rights of the traditional fishermen to fish in the gaznis , especially in the kodis , the physical might of the more organized farmers prevented the implementation of the Court order. At this time, “the gazni lands of Agahanashini turned into battlefields between farmers and fishermen of the region” says Subhash Chandran. Ever since, there has been a conflict between the two groups, and a massive increase in contract farming, which eventually set in the decline of kagga cultivation and traditional agricultural knowledge.

Blue Revolution: Rise of aquaculture and increasing demand

With the onset of the ‘blue revolution’ in the late 1980s, there was a spurt in modern aquaculture replacing traditional agriculture in many parts of India. With the rising demands for prawns domestically (from mostly Goa) and even foreign demands (Japan was one of the biggest markets), there was a rapid expansion of this industry along the Karnataka coast. Thus large tracts of gazni lands were converted into profit making aquaculture ponds for this purpose.The lucrative monetary returns from this industry, and the fact that it is risk-free in terms of the returns attracted many gazni farmers, who preferred leasing out their lands to the contractors for prawn farming to cultivating them on their own (Bhatta and Bhat 1998).

IMG_20161123_144904255Picture 3: Prepared aquaculture pond at the Bargi gazni in Kumta taluk

However, the success of the aquaculture industry was short-lived, since the financial benefits failed to trickle down to the poorest and vulnerable coastal communities. The arrival of such intensive aquaculture soon went past its stage of euphoria, as it led to the destruction of the mangroves, pollution of backwaters with use of chemical and factory feeds, which also led to diseases in the prawns and subsequent damages to the shrimp farms and ecosystem. Many contractors thus also withdrew as they lost capital through such ventures. Serious concerns were raised about the long-term sustainability of the gaznis since the lands once managed traditionally and sustainably either became low-productive or unproductive, leaving the farmers in jeopardy. As a result, farmers are now seriously thinking about ways to sustainably manage the gazni lands.

Impact and current situation: Tragedy of coastal commons?

While aquaculture was considered to be a lucrative option, which has only increased over time, it did lead to some severe livelihood impacts, for the kagga farmers and the fisherfolk, leading to an augmented economic transition that followed.

Today, this age old practice of kagga farming is depreciating, with almost all gajni fields converted into aquaculture ponds or not being used at all. Availability of kagga seed is now extremely scanty. There are very few gazni fields in which kagga farming is being done, such as Manikatta and Brij gaznis, but the dwindling market and demand for it makes it harder for the farmers to continue. Once these stone bunds broke down due to the impact of the tides, the government made no efforts to repair the bunds and gates that maintain the water and salinity level. This led to further land alienation and conversion, leading kagga farmers to search for alternative sources of livelihood. Over time, the knowledge regarding this cultivation, and the motivation to revive it died down, with the newer generation being enticed with higher education and better jobs in the cities, rather than continuing with traditional rice cultivation which requires a bit of maintenance and initiative.

IMG_20161124_134639733Picture 4: One of the few remaining samples of kagga rice, preserved by CR Naik

A few researchers have stated that the gajni bund system also resulted in the decline of fish in the backwaters, to the extent of 75% (Keramane & Naik,2006). Men from most fishing families of the estuaries these days work as labourers in the sea-faring fishing boats of Karnataka coast and neighbouring states. However many fishermen continue to fish by attaching nets to the end of sluice gates attached to gazni fields.

IMG_20161130_175413940 Picture 5: Gantivale nets attached to the end of sluice gates, to catch fish when water stored in gazni lands are drained out.

With the entry of contract system in the Aghanshini backwaters of Kumta coast, the plight of the fisher-women of the gajni villages became serious.  In the past, as fishing was done by families, women also did fishing with the godubale and used to sell fish in the nearby villages.With fishing rights in most of the backwaters being leased out to contractors, these women were severely affected. They are now dependent on the small amounts of money brought in by the men of the household. However women of most fishing families who live closer to the river gather bivalves (shell fish) for sale for purpose of domestic consumption. Today, due to various activities that are incompatible with estuarine ecology, such as unregulated sand mining in the area, even the shell fish availability has begun to diminish.

IMG_20161201_164734169Picture 6: Women collecting bivalves during low tide.

Way Forward

There have been few attempts to revive kagga farming recently. MS Swaminathan Research Foundation worked on creating seed banks, and providing subsidies to the remaining kagga farmers in the region. ‘Save our Rice Campaign’ has worked in the area, as a part of its movement on reviving rice cultures and sustaining rice ecosystems.

Some measures are being taken by the reamaining kagga collectives to preserve this form of indigenous rice cultivation.These collectives imposed fines on  kagga farmers for not growing kagga varieties of rice. Individuals in the area, like CR Naik, head of the Manikatta Gazni Farmers Assosciation, have been continuously testing different strategies from sending petitions to the state government and even the National Green Tribunal. However, there has been hardly any response from the government towards repairing these bunds, despite the fact that it was government intervention that led to its decline.

IMG_20161123_145454 Picture 7: A barren gazni field which is no longer used for kagga farming or acquaculture.

In an article on Kagga farming by Aparna Pallavi, she quotes Hanumantha Pattagar of Lukkeri, who complains that the agriculture department does not provide them with kagga seeds. “The department asks us to adopt improved rice varieties, such as Suvarna and Sona Masuri, but these do not grow in brackish water,” he says. Currently, this area is considered to be a fishing area by the state government, and thus the Agricultural Department considers the repair of the bunds to be outside its jurisdiction. The state has thus intervened in this area (or chosen not to intervene) without an understanding of the socio-economic and ecological conditions of the area and the nature of estuarine farming.

With the possibility of a heavy duty port being built in the region, the question we need to ask is, will the proposed model of capitalist development that the port represents, lead to a new phase of accumulation, and a transformation of the land, that may cause further social upheaval?  That is something only time will have to tell. But until then, there is a need to value and revive traditional agricultural systems like gazni farming, and thus propose an alternative to the increasing intrusion of the neoliberal forces in the area. The communities in Kumta are not ready for another tragedy of what remains of their coastal commons.

Vaishnavi Varadarajan

References:

1.Salagrama, V. (2014). A Livelihood Based Analysis of in Aghnashini-Gangavalli, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka, India. GIZ report.

2. Naik, B.K., T. Seetaramshetty and N. Naik (1998). Economics of Prawn Cultivation – A Case Study of Uttara Kannada Coastal Belt in Karnataka State, Karnataka Journal of Agricultural Sciences, XI (1): 274-76

3. Keremane, B.G & Naik, B.K. (2006). Economics of Gajni Farming under Different Farming Systems in Coastal Floodplains of Karnataka, India. Journal of Social and Economic Development.

4.Pallavi,A. (2014, Jan 15). Kagga in Peril. Down to Earth. Retrieved from: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/kagga-in-peril-43130

5. Bhatta, R. and M. Bhat (1998). Impacts of Aquaculture on the Management of Estuaries in India, Environmental Conservation, XXV (2): 109-21.

Special thanks has to be given to MD Subhash Chandran, head of Indian Institute of Science field station at Kumta. Most of the details in this article are from interviews and sessions with him, on this issue.

Blowing in the Wind in Vizhinjham

In this video, Susmit Bose sings a tweaked version of the ever famous protest song by Bob Dylan, ‘Blowing in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan, written and directed by documentary filmmaker, KP Sasi. This was written in the context of the Vizhinjham port in Kerala and its likely impacts on the biodiversity and livelihoods of the region. While the Tadadi port in Agahanashini is an estuarine port, the consequences as brought out in this song are similar.