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.
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.
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.
Picture 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.
Picture 4: Posters prepared by the IISC team, displayed at the stakeholder meeting
Picture 5: Local Newspaper articles published after the meeting
Picture 6: Attending members of the Ecological Justice team with the IISC team.