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.