Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Little Rann Of Kutch: A Haven For Wildlife Enthusiasts

Outlook Traveller: National: Tuesday, 20 Feb 2024.
Trudging along the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch in September is horrendous work. The claylike mud clings to one's boots in ever enlarging balls that make each step heavier and all the more energy-sapping in the humid morning. And I was doing this for pleasure, or at least that was what I kept telling myself. I had come to stay in the old darbargarh in Dhrangadhra, along with a BBC crew, and we hoped to see flamingos.
But today I was trying to keep up with German geologist and photographer Gertrude Denzau as she tracked ghudkhar, as the Asiatic Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur) is locally known. I had driven the 50 odd kilometres from Dhrangadhra to Zainabad where Gertrude was staying with the redoubtable Shabir Malik at his wonderful family home on the eastern edge of the Rann. Shabir is one of the many great amateur birdwatchers in Gujarat who will put most professional ornithologists to shame. He has the relaxed acceptance of someone at home in his environment, someone who has an instinctive rather than a learned knowledge.
A few years earlier, Shabir had established a fine camp near his home that he named after one of the great birds of this area the Desert Courser. An apt name for both Shabir and his son Dhanraj, who now runs the camp. But this was the off season and we were staying in the traditionally built wooden home on the eastern edge of the Little Rann.
Zainabad was originally part of the small state of Dasada, which was in turn created under the Sultans of Ahmedabad. When the British were encouraging the numerous, and nominally independent, princely states in the area to sign treaties with the Govt of India in Calcutta, Dasada was overlooked. The then ruler felt slighted and left out, and sought an alliance with the Govt of India. He wanted a treaty of his own, and by so doing lost his independence.
Wild Ass Sanctuary
The Wild Ass Sanctuary was created in 1973 and covers a huge 4,953 sq km, most of which is not effectively protected. The Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary to the northwest covers another 7,505 sq km of the Great Rann, but they are divided by the NH-15 which connects Rajasthan with the port of Kandla. Both these huge areas are difficult to manage and have numerous illegal small-scale salt extraction projects employing over 50,000 people in the Little Rann alone. Salt extraction is a great threat to the area and poisons the soil with effluents and pollutes the air.
The Rann is a saline wilderness punctuated by beyts or bhets -- high grounds which become islands during the monsoon and refuges for the ass and other animals. The highest of the 74 bhets in the Little Rann is Bhet-Mardak, the summit of which reaches an impressive 55m above MSL, and is located in the heart of the sanctuary. Only 51 of the bhets have any vegetation, much of which is Prosopis juliflora, while the remaining 23 are more or less barren, and only one, Nanda Bhet, has any human habitation.
In some areas of the Rann where the surface is not disturbed, it has a permanent crust. But this is increasingly rare as vehicles drive all over the area in the dry season and extraction tanks are created. Prior to the 1819 earthquake, an eastern distributary of the Indus emptied into the Rann and the area was a shallow sea with the bhets being permanent islands. The vast amount of salt is an accumulation of discharge from the rivers of Rajasthan, including the Banas and the Rupen which now disappear in the northeastern corner of the Rann, both of which previously had a much higher flow, and the high tides of the Gulf of Kutch.
Now the sea gets pushed through a narrow neck near Surajbari by the monsoon winds and mixes with the runoff of the rivers.
Little Rann Provides 25 Per Cent of India's Salt
The meeting of these waters sustains a thick seafood cocktail of small fish, prawns and other crustaceans that are nourished by the mix of salt water blown in by the wind and the monsoon runoff. And it is this rich feed that, in some years, attracts many thousands of flamingos to the southern edge of the Little Rann. The salt flats are transformed into great marsh swamps which make travel next to impossible. But as the area dries up by the end of October, the salt crystals begin to glitter in the winter sun and the extraction process begins again. Almost 25 per cent of India's salt comes from the Little Rann.
Tracking rutting Wild Ass at any time of year is difficult in the dry season the asses have been recorded galloping at up to 60kmph. Gertrude and I staggered in as dignified a way as we could, trying to approach a small group who were safe on a slightly raised bit of land where they were not going to get stuck. Around them the monsoon rains had spurred the growth of mixed grass and herbaceous species that the ass grazed upon. And it is in the August-September period that both foaling and mating occurs. The gestation period is approximately 13 months and the mares come into heat every two years. Gertrude was collecting material for what became a magnificent book on all the Wild Ass species of the world.
Wild Ass Population Restricted to Little Rann
Over the last decade the numbers of the Wild Ass have increased and they have begun to reclaim some of their old range. They were once found as far as the Indus, and Akbar hunted them on the banks of the Sutlej, but now they are restricted to the Little Rann and a few neighbouring patches.
One of the greatest threats to the Rann is the spread of Prosopis juliflora. Originally introduced as a fuelwood species by the old rulers of Radhanpur and Morvi, it grows rampant through the drought-prone areas of western India. An absurd situation arose in the Rann a few years ago where the Wildlife Department was trying to eradicate the weed and another part of the same department was planting it in neat rows.
Besides Nilgai, other mammals found in the Rann of Kutch are chinkara, wolves and caracal
Besides Nilgai, other mammals found in the Rann of Kutch are chinkara, wolves and caracal Wikimedia Commons
Wetlands For Many Animals
Not all the rain gets mixed with the brackish water. Along the eastern edge of the Rann, tanks and natural depressions fill up with rainwater and become important wetlands for waterfowl and many animals. Nilgai, chinkara, wolves and caracal are among the other mammal species one can see while travelling over the Rann. In October, demoiselle cranes and many other species arrive from central Asia, and the Houbara Bustard struts along the edge of the Rann while nilgai shimmer in a mirage.
Back in Dhrangadhra, I joined Valmik Thapar and a crew from the BBC Natural History Unit where they were filming a sequence for the series Land of the Tiger. We drove the 20 odd kilometres to Kuda following the alignment of an old narrow gauge railway line built to bring salt from the Rann to depots in Dhrangadhra. There were tracks we could follow in our jeep and then we had to walk over cracked mud into which our footsteps sank a few centimetres. We managed to get within about 500m of a large flock of flamingos feeding on the rich cocktail of fish and prawn.
Every Monsoon A Celebration
The Rann never gets very much rain, but every monsoon here is a celebration. A good monsoon just about brings a blush to the dormant grass. When we visited, the rains were bountiful and both the ass and flamingos made the most of it. A few years later I was in another part of Kutch looking for wolves in the grasslands west of Bhuj. It was the wettest monsoon in a long time, and after years of drought the Rann and its creatures were celebrating once again.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Salt Workers Fight for Livelihood in Wild Ass Sanctuary

Vibes of India: Ahmedabad: Sunday, 18 Feb 2024.
A dispute has arisen between 53 salt pan workers and the Gujarat Forest Department regarding access to the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann of Kutch. The workers, claiming to be traditional “agariyas” (salt cultivators), allege they were stopped from cultivating salt within the sanctuary’s boundaries, despite possessing “agariya pothi” cards issued in 2008.
However, the Forest Department, represented by Deputy Conservator Dhavalkumar Gadhavi, counters this claim. In an affidavit submitted to the Gujarat High Court, Gadhavi states that salt cultivation within the sanctuary requires specific permission and an “agariya card” issued only to individuals listed in the sanctuary’s official Survey Settlement Report. The petitioners’ names are absent from this report, rendering their cards invalid for sanctuary access.
The petitioners argue that traditional agariyas possess an inherent right to cultivate salt on up to 10 acres without permits, citing a 1948 recommendation by the Union government’s Salt Expert Committee. The Forest Department refutes this claim, citing a 2023 communication that restricts access solely to those listed in the Survey Settlement Report.
Adding complexity to the situation, the petitioners highlight that the survey to determine land rights predating the sanctuary’s creation remains incomplete since 1997, despite the sanctuary’s establishment in 1978. This, they argue, throws their traditional rights into question.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Workers want to illegally cultivate salt in Wild Ass Sanctuary, forest official tells Gujarat HC: Written by Sohini Ghosh

Indian Express: Ahmedabad: Thursday, 15 Feb 2024.
The petitioners, meanwhile, have claimed that they are traditional agariyas (salt pan cultivators) hailing from Santalpur in Patan's Little Rann of Kutch. They have been cultivating salt there and were issued agariya pothi a card identifying them as salt pan cultivators in 2008.
Responding to a petition moved by 53 salt pan workers alleging that they have been stopped from undertaking cultivation work on land that is a part of the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann of Kutch, the state government has told the Gujarat High Court that the petitioners want to enter the sanctuary for illegal salt cultivation.
In an affidavit submitted before the HC on February 13, Dhavalkumar Gadhavi, the Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) at Wild Ass Sanctuary at Surendranagar’s Dhrangadhra, noted that to cultivate salt in the Wild Ass Sanctuary, prior permission has to be obtained by availing the ‘agariya card’, which is issued only to individuals or entities or cooperative societies whose name appears in the Survey Settlement Report issued by the sanctuary’s settlement officer.
It added that the names of the petitioners are not reflected in the Survey Settlement Report of 2008 and they also do not possess agariya cards, which is issued by the forest department, and only those salt workers who have such cards can enter the sanctuary for salt cultivation.
The petitioners, meanwhile, have claimed that they are traditional agariyas (salt pan cultivators) hailing from Santalpur in Patan’s Little Rann of Kutch. They have been cultivating salt there and were issued agariya pothi a card identifying them as salt pan cultivators in 2008.
However, the affidavit noted that agariya pothi is merely an “identification card” required to avail welfare schemes and it would not be valid for any other legal purpose. It added that the document is issued to any person involved in any work related to salt industry “without distinguishing” whether the document-holder is a salt farmer/cultivator or any other labourer working in the industry.
The petitioners have claimed that traditional agariyas do not require license or lease to cultivate up to 10 acre of land for production of salt by virtue of recommendation of the Salt Expert Committee constituted by the Union government in 1948.
However, the DCF’s affidavit stated that by way of a communication dated May 24, 2023 issued by the principal chief conservator of forests (Wildlife) “it was instructed that only individuals whose name appears in the Survey Settlement Report… should be issued the agariya card and be allowed to enter the sanctuary area for salt farming”.
The petitioners have challenged this communication on the ground that the survey and settlement of rights of those using the land much prior to declaration of the area as part of the Wild Ass Sanctuary has not been finalised till date. This, even though the survey and settlement to determine the rights of those who have been using the land for non-forest activity started in 1997 and the Little Rann of Kutch was declared as a wild ass sanctuary in 1978, they added.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Narmada water destroying salt pans in Little Rann of Kutch, say agariyas: Written by Gopal B Kateshiya

Indian Express: Rajkot: Thursday, 8 Feb 2024.
On the floor of the Assembly, the state government conceded on Tuesday that some Narmada water does make its way to the Little Rann of Kutch and that it will take appropriate action.
Agariyas try to contain flow of Narmada water in
Little Rann of Kutchnear Tikar in Halvad. (Express Photo)
Agariyas (salt pan workers) cultivating salt in the Little Rann of Kutch bordering Halvad in Morbi district have alleged that Narmada water flowing from canals of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) is flooding their salt pans, threatening to destroy salt that will soon be ready for harvest.
On the floor of the Assembly, the state government conceded on Tuesday that some Narmada water does make its way to the Little Rann of Kutch and that it will take appropriate action.
In a written reply to a question asked by Congress MLA Dinesh Thakor, Minister of State for Salt Industries, Jagdish Panchal, said: “Water is not directly flowed to from Narmada canal to Little Rann of Kutch. But in emergency, escapes of canal are operated and water is discharged in streams, rivulets and rivers. Some of these streams, rivulets and rivers tail into the Little Rann of Kutch hence, water some time does end up in Little Rann of Kutch.”
Volume of such water is low as compared to those of other rivers, he added.
Thakor went on to ask if it was true that as of December 31, 2023, salt cultivated by agariyas was being washed away by fresh water being released from canals of Narmada dam project. In reply to his another question on what the government has done in the last two years to prevent loss of salt this way, Panchal said the state government will “in accordance of law, take appropriate action”.
Agariyas said their salt pans abutting Ajitgadh, Mangadh, Tikar, Jogad and Kidi villages, among others, have been flooded by Narmada water streaming down from SSNNL’s Maliya branch canal to Little Rann of Kutch through local rivers and rivulets. Suresh Raghavji, an Agariya from Tikar, said that Narmada water started flooding Little Rann of Kutch around a month ago. “The damage is on a very large scale,” he added.
Manhar Devji from Tikar said that Narmada water threatens to destroy salt cultivated in around 500 salt pans each in Little Rann of Kutch tracts bordering villages like Tikar, Ajitgadh, Mangadh, Jogad and Kidi, which will soon be ready for harvest. “Water is submerging our patas, each having 50 to 60 tonne of salt,” he said, requesting the government to stop flow of Narmada water at the earliest. “Otherwise, this water will submerge average 500 salt pans in these villages,” Manhar told mediapersons.
While managing director of SSNNL, Mukesh Puri, could not be reached for comments, sources in SSNNL said that Narmada water, being channelled to Saurashtra and north Gujarat for irrigation purpose, making its way to Little Rann of Kutch has been an issue for the past three to four years.
“But it is not that SSNNL discharges Narmada water into Little Rann of Kutch on purpose. We are neither discharging additional water nor wasting the precious water that is pumped to our canals by consuming lots of electricity. The main reason is return flow, the surface and sub-surface excess water that drains from farmers field after irrigating crops through flooding method,” said a senior SSNNL functionary.
Maliya branch canal, which offtakes from Saurashtra branch canal of SSNNL in Surendranagar, runs parallel to the eastern border of Little Rann of Kutch and tails in Malia taluka of Morbi after passing through Lakhtdar, Dasada and Dhrangadhra in Surendranagar and Halvad and Malia in Morbi.
“This problem is not limited to Morbi only. Around four lakh hectare of Narmada dam’s command area falls on the border of Little Rann of Kutch and SSNNL is duty-bound to provide farmers of these areas irrigation water when they demand it. However, many a time, farmers operate canal gates on their own and that exacerbates water flowing to Little Rann of Kutch,” the official said. Instead of the more common method of flooding salt pans with seawater, agariyas cultivating salt in Little Rann of Kutch fill their pans with salty groundwater by pumping it out with oil engines and motor pumps. The cultivation season starts in October-November and harvest begins in April.
Sources said that flow in Maliya branch canal has already decreased by around two-third. “From the peak of around 1,000 cusec (cubic feet per second) in November-December, the discharge has decreased now to average 300-350 cusec. This means less water will be flowing to farmers’ fields,” said a source.
Harinesh Pandya, president of NGO Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch said the state will have to find a long-term solution. “Narmada dam project is worth Rs 90,000 crore and still, so much water is going waste in Surendranagar and Morbi even as farmers of Kutch are waiting for their share. This waste has to stop, not to protect the livelihood of agariyas and farmers but to also prevent damage that freshwater can do to desert ecology,” he added.
Pandya said Narmada water has flooded an Little Rann of Kutch tract around 40 km long and seven km across Surendranagar and Morbi. “There is similar flooding at Santalpur in Patan and Rapar in Kutch but there have been no complaints, as the forest department has prevented agariyas from cultivating salt in those areas this year.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Adverse impact on saltpans, biodiversity, wild ass as Narmada waters flood Kutch Rann : By Pankti Jog

Counterview: Ahmedabad: Wednesday, 7 Feb 2024.
If you visit Kharaghoda, Zinzuwada or Halvad Rann, or even Santalpur Rann areas in the Little Rann of Kutch these days, you will be surprised to see Narmada waters are flowing in the Rann areas, which are otherwise supposed to be a dry desert for eight months of a year.
The Narmada waters are continuously flowing in these areas for the last two plus months, spreading to up to as far as 40 km inside, inundating widespread areas of the Rann.
From where are the waters released and how are they reaching the Rann?
The Rann is triangular shaped, spread over approximately 5,000 sq km area, and lies between Surendranagar (Patadi, Dhangadhra block), Morbi (Halvad, Maliya block), Patan (Santalpur block) and Kutch (Rapar block) districts.
Many rivers like Rupen, Banas and small-big streams in these districts meet the Rann, and during the rainy season, they carry rainwater into the Rann. Waters also come in from the Surajbari creek, turning the Rann into a brackish water lake for 3-4 months. However, by September, the waters dry up, and flow back into the creek, and cracked mud-flats emerge, making into into a mud desert for the rest of the period.
The Narmada waters are released in large quantity in these rivers and streams for the purpose of irrigation, but they reach the Rann areas, thus get wasted. This happens mostly December onwards.
Impact on salt farms
Gujarat produces 76% of India’s total salt production, and the Rann contributes 31% of it. Large scale water released from the Narmada canal during the salt season makes severe impact on the salt farming inside the Rann. Salt farms are inundated, and the density of the brine reduces when the Narmada waters get mixed with the brine in the salt farms.
Sometimes bunds constructed by saltpan farmers are washed away by these waters. The salt farmers', or Agariyas', access to their well and farm (Agar) gets restricted, thereby affecting salt production.
Worse, once the Rann is flooded with Narmada waters, water tankers and mobile health vans cannot reach the Agariyas, depriving them of health service and drinking water supply.
In fact, floods in Rann due to Narmada waters are a recurring incident and this has been going on for the past several years.
In 2017, the sudden release of waters in Banas river led to huge floods and the Agariyas had to immediately rush back to their villages from salt farms. One pregnant Agariya women died as she got labour pain and could not reached hospital on time.
“Narmada waters are released in large quantity in rivers and streams for irrigation, but they reach the Rann areas, thus get wasted.”
In 2021, Kharagodha and Zinzuwada were flooded with Narmada waters, and 159 salt farms were destroyed. A committee headed by the director (civil) Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam (SSNNL) visited the Rann and met Agariyas for analyzing the situation and filed a report. Damage assessment was done but no compensation was given.
Impact on wild life and biodiversity
The Rann is the Wild Ass Sanctuary, and such frequent floods with Narmada waters are bound to affect the rare species' habitat, apart having adverse impact on the biodiversity of the Rann.
The wild ass requires a dry desert environment, and it can't reside in wetlands. It walks, wanders and runs in the dry mudflats of the wild ass sanctuary. More than 6,000 wild asses are conserved here.
Inundation of the desert during winter and summer restricts the movement of the wild ass, which may have long-term impact on its habitation and growth. Additionally, the Rann has many species like spiders which make rare nets in the mud-flat cracks, and reptiles stay in underground holes. All of this may also get affected.
One wonders:
  • What is the reason for releasing Narmada waters in Banas and Rupen rivers?
  • Has the SSNNL estimated the water requirements of the farmers on the periphery of the Rann in order to release reasonable amount of water?
  • What is the planning by the SSNNL for storing extra waters that are not used by farmers?
  • Who is responsible for such a huge loss of Narmada waters?
  • Who will give compensation for the livelihood loss of the Agariyas?

Climate change is making salt harder to produce: Vaishnavi Rathore

The Scroll: New Delhi: Wednesday, 7 Feb 2024.
Gujarat is India’s highest salt-producing state. But shifting, unpredictable monsoons have disrupted the livelihoods of those who produce the mineral.
One day in early June, Awesh Bhai received a Whatsapp message from the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority warning him that Cyclone Biparjoy would make landfall in Gujarat in the next five days.
Awesh Bhai lives in the town of Maliya in Morbi district, just under 50 km from the coast – close enough that it would feel the impact of the cyclone.
He set to work to limit the damage he was anticipating. Among the measures he planned was to unscrew solar panels that powered a pump that he had bought with the help of a subsidy provided by the Gujarat government. The motor helped him pump saline water, which flowed underground and from nearby streams that connected to the sea, into sections of flat land, known as salt pans. Here the water would gradually evaporate to leave behind salt, his main source of livelihood.
“But the moment I shared the news of the coming cyclone with my labourers, they all packed up their temporary huts and rushed away from the salt farms for safety,” Awesh Bhai said. “We could not take off the panels in time.”
In mid-June, the cyclone hit Maliya. Awesh Bhai lost eight of his 16 solar panels. The cyclone also carried dust that mixed with about 500 tonnes of salt he had already harvested, making it unfit to sell. “Over the 10 acres that we harvest salt, we faced losses of about Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh last year,” he said.
Awesh Bhai is an Agariya, a term that refers to a group of small-scale, traditional salt-makers in Gujarat who hail from four different caste and religious groups. They carry out the work under a Central government notification of 1948 that exempts any individual who makes salt on less than 10 acres of land from obtaining a lease.
An estimated 45,000 Agariyas make salt in Gujarat’s Little Rann of Kutch, a triangular desert shared between five districts Morbi, Kutch, Surendranagar, Patan, and Banaskantha. Gujarat is India’s highest salt-producing state, and accounts for 85% of the country’s total production in 2022, the state produced 228 lakh tonnes. The produced salt is processed for human consumption, but also as raw material for other products, like caustic soda, fertilisers, and paints. Of the total salt produced in Gujarat, 31% comes from Agariyas in the Little Rann of Kutch.
However, in the last few years, the production of salt has seen a decline across all salt-producing states. In Gujarat, it fell by 4% in just six years between 2016 and 2022, an analysis of data presented in response to a Rajya Sabha question showed.
“The fall in Gujarat is majorly because of two causes,” said Bharat Raval, president of the Indian Salt Manufacturing Association, or ISMA. “Increasing cyclones on the coast between April and May, and extended monsoons.”
Indeed, the last three decades have seen significant changes in Gujarat’s climate. An analysis of meteorological data from 1980 to 2020 found a 52% increase in the frequency of cyclonic storms in the Arabian sea, an 80% increase in their duration, and an increase of about 40% in their intensity in the post-monsoon period.
Residents of the region also noted that the Little Rann had been seeing “kam mausam baarish”, their term for unseasonal rains, and an overall increase in the amount of rain in the region. While data specific to the Little Rann is not available, meteorologists have documented changes in climate in Kutch district, where a part of the Little Rann falls: over a span of 30 years between 1983 and 2013, the average rainfall in the district during the monsoon months from June to September almost doubled from 378 mm to 674 mm.
These changes in climate have spelled disaster for the salt-making industry, which benefited earlier from the limited rain in the desert and the sharp sunlight it received through the year. The changes are shortening the salt production season, negatively affecting the quality of salt, delaying production, and causing losses in crores for large companies.
“Salt is one of the cheapest and most essential commodities,” Raval said. “Right now, the government is not giving attention to the problem. When they finally do that, it will be very late. The industry will not be able to recover overnight.”
The changes in climate are also disrupting the livelihoods of small-scale salt miners. “Ours is a profession that is almost completely dependent on the weather,” said Awesh Bhai. “Lekin ab mausam palti kha raha hai,” he said but now the weather is turning over.
The little Rann of Kutch spans approximately 5,000 square km. The landscape changes dramatically through the year. During the monsoon, seasonal rivers drain into the desert, while seawater flows directly over land closer to the coast. This effectively converts the desert into a wetland, and renders it inaccessible.
Each September, the sea retreats and the seasonal rivers dry up, leaving a vast expanse of flat land. This marks the start of the period of salt-manufacturing, which lasts up till March and April the following year.
There are broadly two kinds of manufacturers. Closer to the coast, and with easy access to highways, are companies that make salt across thousands of acres of land. These companies typically make karkatch, a powdery variety of salt that can be produced every two months. Some Agariyas also work close to the coast, and make karkatch.
Most Agariyas, however, work further inland, and manufacture vadagara, a salt variety that is made up of large crystals that take eight months to harvest.
At the start of the salt-making months, the Agariyas hire tractors, load them up with rations and their belongings. They then drive from towns and villages on the periphery of the desert through marshy land to reach the locations where they set up salt farms.
By the time they put up temporary huts made with bamboo and tarpaulin, the marshy land dries up completely it is typically then available to them for the next eight months to make salt.
In early January, when Scroll visited parts of the Little Rann in Surendranagar and Morbi districts, solar-powered motors pumped out saline groundwater into large, shallow pits about a foot deep. From there, water flowed out through slightly sloping channels that Agariyas dig from scratch each year, to four other successive pits. In this process, water evaporates, increasing the salinity of the remaining water. By March and April, water evaporates almost completely from the final pit, leaving crystals of salt that the Agariyas collect.
Fluctuating and extreme climate patterns affect this production process in multiple, interlinked ways.
As in Awesh Bhai’s case, perhaps the most dramatic and visible damage happens as a result of cyclones.
Older generations of Agariyas noted that the occurrence of cyclones has increased in recent years. Not only do strong cyclones cause immediate damage to solar panels, the temporary huts and quality of salt, they also shorten the salt season.
“Usually, the salt season winds up at the end of June,” said ISMA’s Raval. He added that most cyclones in recent years had made landfall in May, which effectively ends the season a month or two earlier. “Ending two months earlier means a loss of about 60 lakh tonnes of salt,” Raval said.
Karim Juma, a 52-year-old Agariya, pointed out that in Maliya, cyclones are accompanied by strong tidal waves these waves carry saline water as far inland as Maliya through streams. These streams sometimes overflow, submerging the access roads to the salt pans; water can then take weeks to withdraw. “During this time, the water does not allow us to enter the desert area even with our cars,” he said. “So, in case some of our harvested salt is saleable, we are not able to get transportation to sell it to factories.”
Cyclones also affect larger companies that operate in the region, such as Dev Salt, in Morbi district. The company makes 5 lakh tonnes of the multi-crop kurkatch every year by drawing seawater into salt pans across 7,000 acres and concentrating it through a mechanised version of the process that Agariyas use.
Last year, the company suffered major losses as a result of Cyclone Biparjoy. The cyclone and accompanying high tides flooded the desert where the company operates. The company lost 50% of its salt production, according to Vivek Dhruna, an industrial relations and liaison officer of Dev Salt.
Salt manufacturers in Morbi build mud bundhs around five feet high to prevent high-tide seawater from mixing with the salt pans through the year.
But Dhruna noted that often these bundhs cannot bear the impact of intense cyclones.
“The water then seeps into the mud bundhs, making them weaker,” he said. When this happens, loosened mud and other impurities from the bundh also mix with the saline water, he explained, adding, “This hampers the quality of salt.”
He noted that the salt closer to the walls would have higher amounts of these impurities, and that therefore, “In such cases, we harvest salt only beyond 25 feet from the wall of the bundhs.”
Salt-makers then have to hire machines and labour to strengthen the bundhs again. “So, the cost of production for the salt that year increases,” Dhruna said.
Meteorological data support Agariyas’ anecdotal accounts of excess and unseasonal rain in the region. Indian Meteorological Department data from weather stations in three cities in Kutch Kandla, Mundra and Naliya show an increase in “rainy days” over the past 30 years. Specifically, between the decades of 1990–2000 and 2011–2020, the number of rainy days that Kandla saw increased from an average of 12 to 20. Between the same periods, Mundra saw an increase from 14.6 to 20, and Naliya, from 9.8 to 14.3.
In times of excess rain, dams in the region, such as the Narmada and Machhu dams, often fill beyond capacity authorities then release excess water, which flows through canals, some of which are close to salt pans.
Salt farmers noted that if this freshwater, or “meetha pani”, drains into the desert, it can mix with the saline brine being evaporated in Agariyas’ pits. “This dilutes the degree of salinity in the water, and we have to restart the salt-making process all over again,” said Deelabhai Khambalia, a salt-maker who lives a few kilometres away from Savadia, and whose hut in the desert is situated on the edge of a small lake made of excess water drained out from a canal nearby.
Khambalia added, “We have to manually build bundhs to prevent the sweet water from entering into our salt pans.”
The bundhs that Agariyas build are embankments made of mud, around two feet high. Building them is a time-consuming activity. Khambalia’s wife Sharda Ben explained that in 2023, “When we should have been doing salt work, we were doing mud work.”
Apart from the last year, she recounted that the administration also released more than the usual amount of water through the canal in 2015 and 2017.
The process of making salt is also disrupted by the late withdrawal of the monsoon and unseasonal rains.
Anif Mohammad, a 41-year-old Agariya who makes salt around 10 km from Dev Salt, noted that he typically began his work around the festival of Janmashatmi, which usually falls in August. “Now, the rains are not sticking to their time,” he said. Now, he often starts work after Diwali, which usually falls in October or November.
“This year, we began making the salt pans on November 25, after the water from Machhu had finally dried up,” said Mohammad. “Then by November 27, it rained, which stalled our work once more.”
Unseasonal rain mixes with saline water in the pits, diluting its salinity, delaying the process by which salt crystals are formed. In some instances, when rains occur after salt crystals begin to form, “it melts the crystals away, destroying that crop”, said Karai Ben, who is in her late thirties. “Last year in March, first heavy wind came and then rain,” she said, adding that this damaged 900 tonnes of her salt.
Last year, 60-year-old Dev Bhai Savadia was able to travel the 30 km from his village Patdi to the desert only in October, delaying his salt-making process by a month. “The monsoon ended late, and the desert was still full of water so we could not enter,” he said. Typically, monsoon showers lasted in Gujarat from July to August. But in the last few years, rains have extended till September and even October.
A delay by a month meant that Savadia would probably stay a month longer to make up for the lost time for salt production. But this extended time period would coincide with the arrival of cyclones. “Staying longer in summer months means that we will be risking dust storms and cyclones, which mixes dust with the salt that is ready at the time,” he said.
Rains hamper salt production in other ways also. “The clouds that accompany unseasonal rains lower the evaporation rate,” said Dev Salt’s Dhruna. This extends the time needed to create one crop of salt. “With unfavourable weather, one crop of salt can take an additional month and a half to harvest,” he said.
Savadia noted that nowadays, “it rains at least three-four times after we come to the desert, which did not happen earlier”. Last year, after unseasonal rain battered his 10 acres of salt pans, Savadia lost 500 tonnes of about 1,300 tonnes of salt he had manufactured. This cost him around Rs 1 lakh from his annual earnings. “I get worried now when I see dark clouds in the sky,” Savadia said.
Salt-makers told Scroll that although they faced significant losses as a result of cyclones and excess and unseasonal rain, they had so far not seen significant support from the administration. Both small-scale Agariyas as well as large companies and traders said that they had not received compensation for losses they had suffered.
Bharat Somera, a coordinator at Surendranagar with Agariya Heetrakshak Manch, a collective of traditional salt-makers in Gujarat, noted that out of around 3,500 families who suffered losses in 2021 as a result of Cyclone Tauktae, only 75 received compensation. “This compensation was given only to those whose salt had crystallised and had been harvested before getting damaged because of the storm,” Somera said.
Pankti Jog, programme person with the Manch, explained that even those who did receive compensation got only Rs 2,500 for each of their salt pans, each of which is roughly 150 feet wide and 500 feet long. This amount “is a very, very low value for the damage suffered”, she said.
Somera added that apart from such payments granted in response to specific problems, “There were no clear guidelines of who should get compensation.”
Scroll emailed the district administration to ask about why many Agariyas had not received compensation. By the time this article was published, there had been no reply.
Without financial support for losses, small-scale Agariyas turn to borrowing money.
In Surendranagar district, where salt pans are situated between 30 km and 50 km from the nearest municipality, Agariyas sell salt to traders who act as middlemen. These traders factor in expensive transportation costs and pay low rates to the Agariyas for the salt, ranging between Rs 100 and Rs 150 per tonne. When Agariyas face losses, they are often forced to ask traders for advance payments for the following year’s harvest – when they are hit by consecutive years of losses, they become trapped in a cycle of debt.
In Maliya, Agariyas have written to district officials as well as the chief minister to demand compensation. “We even put out videos of the damage due to cyclones to our salt,” said Rajesh Bhimani, a young Agariya. “Officials even came to survey the damage last year, but we have not received any compensation so far.”
The risk that Agariyas face can also increase depending on the variety of salt that they make. “Since Vadagara is grown just once a year, the risk to Agariyas who grow this variety is felt more in case a cyclone or rain happens, because their effort of the entire season is lost,” said Harinesh Pandya, managing trustee of the Agariya Heetrakshak Manch. “In the case of karkatch, which is a multi-crop, Agariyas can make more salt in two-month cycles in case one fails.” Pandya explained that the Manch has been working on enabling vadagara farmers to shift to making karkatch to reduce the risks they face, and that their efforts had seen some success.
The organisation is also encouraging salt-makers to diversify their products to reduce dependence on salt alone. One such product is the liquid left over after the salt crystallises, known as bittern. Bittern is rich in magnesium, bromide, and calcium salts, and can be an input for other industrial use, such as in the treatment of waste water.
In Surendranagar, some salt-makers have started selling this bittern. “I have been selling bittern for the last five years,” Savadia said. “For all my salt pans together, I get between Rs 40,000 and 50,000 per season.”
As a longer-term solution, ISMA has been demanding that salt be registered as an agricultural commodity rather than as a mining product, as it is currently categorised. “Salt is facing all the impacts of weather and climate, just as agricultural products face,” Raval said.
The change in classification would ensure that salt is assigned a minimum support price, and can be sold at marketplaces organised by Agricultural Product Market Committees, which regulate prices and safeguards producers from exploitation. This would also allow makers to purchase crop insurance for their salt, explained Jog. “Such insurance would help salt farmers at times of unseasonal rain and cyclones,” she said. “It will give a proper policy to assess the damage and compensation.”
Agariyas believe this demand is entirely justified. “We see this as farming only. It is salt farming,” said Bhimani. “If it is registered as an agricultural product, there will 100% be benefits to us. So far, all of us who make salt have only been exploited.”
But salt-makers noted that support from the government only seemed to be dwindling. Dhruna explained that in earlier years, the state government had an office to oversee the industry, but that it had since been closed. The office, known as the salt commissioner’s office, oversaw matters such as quality control and distribution, and was also responsible for assessing damages “caused to salt works due to natural calamities and to work out financial assistance to be given to affected salt works”.
In 2016, the Central government decided to close and restructure the office on the recommendation of the Department of Economic Affairs. “This was the only caretaker department focusing on salt in particular, which has been shut, and the industry has been left in the hands of god,” said Raval. “We have been demanding that the salt department should be activated again.”
In the Rann, Karai Ben took a break from raking her crystallised salt in the sharp winter sun, her bare feet white with the saline water she was working in. She pointed to her solar panels – one of the 12 panels were destroyed in Cyclone Biparjoy. The broken panel lay on the cracked desert soil a short distance away.
“The rains, storms, and water from the Narmada, all are increasing over the years,” she said. “But we cannot do anything to protect this salt when such situations happen, we just pray that next year, god will give us more salt.”
(This reporting is made possible with support from Report for the World, an initiative of The Ground Truth Project.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Denied entry into Little Rann of Kutch, Agariyas of Patan allege discrimination in granting permits: Suchak Patel

Land Conflict Watch: National: Wednesday, 24 Jan 2024.
Land Conflict Summary
Agariyas of the Santalpur block of Gujarat's Patan district have alleged discrimination by the Forest Department officials in granting permits to enter the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) for salt farming.
In September 2023, the state government allowed salt pan workers with leases up to 10 acres to continue their traditional salt production in LRK. Since then, several Agariyas from Dhandhdhra, Halwad, and Patadi were given permission to enter the LRK, but none of the 1,200 salt farmers from the Santalpur side of Patan district were allowed to enter the area.
Agariyas, the traditional salt farmers, have been harvesting salt in the Little Rann of Kutch for decades. The typical salt farming season starts around Dushera in October, but even after two months, the salt farmers were still waiting for the permission. "The Forest Department told us that they need some time to verify and finalize the list ... thus we were waiting. We do not have any other source of livelihood and today sit ideal at home," Narubhai Koli, who has been farming salt for six generations, from the Santalpur Rann was quoted as saying.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) (Wildlife) Nityanand Srivastava said, “We are allowing only those whose name are there in the settlement report”, though underlining, only those “eligible for one well” will be permitted to do salt farming. However, salt farmers claim their names are mentioned in the government survey and settlement records.
Bharat Singh Dabhi, Lok Sabha Member from Patan, also wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat highlighting the fact that Agariyas from his constituency have been denied entry into the LRK despite them being officially listed in government survey and settlement records. He added that the discrepancy in allowing salt farmers from one side while denying access to those from another side within the same LRK raises questions about the Forest Department's operations.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat High Court on January 18, 2024 directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to submit a reply by 29 January in response to a petition filed by members of Agariya community. The court emphasised that Agariyas who possess identity cards, should be permitted to engage in salt farming, as it constitutes their livelihood. The Court found no valid reason, based on the available records, to deny them access to the desert.
The Survey and Settlement Report was prepared to seek a grant from the World Bank to conserve biodiversity of the LRK’s Wild Ass Sanctuary. The report, initiated in September 1997 and completed in 2016, left out a large number of Agariyas from the list, prompting their demand for inclusion. Reportedly, only 189 Agariyas were included in the list for Santalpur block, as against estimates of up to 1,200.
After the settlement report was released, representatives of aggrieved Agariyas submitted a memorandum to the chief minister, attaching historic documents dating back to the British era and showcasing the community's involvement in salt cultivation. Following which, on 4 September 2023, the state government decided to allow all traditional Agariyas to continue salt harvesting upon simple registration, the verification of which would be done during on-site survey. It was also decided that the survey and settlement process list would be revised by doing on-site survey so that seasonal user rights were recognised on a permanent basis.
In 1973, approximately 4000 square kilometers of LRK was designated as a Wild Ass Sanctuary (WAS), protecting the Indian wild ass, exclusively found in the Kutch region of Gujarat. However, the presence of Agariyas was viewed as a threat to wildlife protection efforts, leading to eviction notices, restricted access to welfare schemes, and a lack of livelihood insurance during natural disasters.
Agariyas, however, claim that there is no conflict between them and wild ass, as census data shows a significant increase in the wild ass population from 700 in 1973 to 6,082 in 2019.

Friday, January 19, 2024

HC notice over salt farming prohibition in LRK’s Santalpur

Times of India: Ahmedabad: Friday, 19 Jan 2024.
The Gujarat high court on Thursday issued notices to the authorities concerned after salt pan workers from Santalpur in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) complained they are not being allowed salt farming in the region despite being issued the agariya pothi, licence for salt farming, in 2008.
Justice V D Nanavati has sought a reply from the forest authorities and the Patan district collector by Jan 29 and asked the state government to positively consider the matter and not to turn away any salt pan worker if they hold a valid agariya pothi.
The petitioners’ counsel, Anand Yagnik, submitted that the forest officials have been denying salt cultivation in Santalpur region only, whereas nearly 3,800 families associated with the same activity in other regions within the wild ass sanctuary of the LRK Kharagoda, Dhrangadhra, Zinzuwada, Halwad and Maliya are being allowed to cultivate salt.
He raised the contention that the salt pan workers of Santalpur region are being discriminated against by the authorities. It was contended that the petitioners were given agariya pothi on the recommendation of a high-level committee after a detailed survey. Though the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary, 3,800 families could cultivate salt each on a tract of up to 10 acres. Despite the declaration of the area as a sanctuary, the rights of those using the land have not been recognized yet even after more than 45 years since the notification.
Moreover, it was also contended that despite a multi-fold increase in the area of salt pans in the LRK, the wild ass population also improved from a meagre 362 in 1969 to 4,451 in 2014 and 6,082 in 2020. This shows that salt production activities have not affected wildlife in this area.

Gujarat HC seeks state’s response as salt pan workers allege discrimination

Indian Express: Ahmedabad: Friday, 19 Jan 2024.
The court of Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati on Thursday issued a notice to the state authorities as well as the Patan district collector and sought a response from the respondent parties by January 29, when the court is due to take up the matter next.
The petition has highlighted that the salt cultivation season stretches from mid-September until April, and they have been stopped from undertaking cultivation in plots less than 10 acres in area.
The Gujarat High Court on Thursday issued a notice to the state government and its Department of Forest and Environment, and Labor and Employment Department, over a petition moved by 53 salt pan workers.
The petition has highlighted that the salt cultivation season stretches from mid-September until April, and they have been stopped from undertaking cultivation in plots less than 10 acres in area.  The petitioners are seeking the court’s directions to the state authorities to be allowed to cultivate salt.
According to the petitioners, who are traditional agariyas (salt pan workers) hailing from Santalpur in Patan, they have been cultivating salt in the Santalpur region of Little Rann of Kutch in Patan. They were issued agariya pothi (document permitting them cultivation) in the year 2008, based on the recommendation of a High-Level Empowered Committee and its detailed survey of every land parcel used for the cultivation of salt in the Little Rann of Kutch, the court was told.
The petitioners are challenging the action of the state’s Department of Forest and Environment of not allowing their families to cultivate salt even as the department permitted about 3,800-odd ‘similarly situated’ traditional agariya families to cultivate salt in Kharagoda region, Dhangadhra region, Zinjuvada region, Halwad region and Maliya region of Little Rann of Kutch.
The petitioners, represented by advocate Anand Yagnik, have submitted that the Forest Department’s action of not permitting the petitioners to cultivate salt has been reasoned on the ground that the area of cultivation is situated within the Wild Ass Sanctuary marked under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in the Little Rann of Kutch. However, the petitioners have pointed out that the other five regions where about 3,800 traditional agariya families have been permitted to cultivate salt “is also an integral part of the Wild Ass Sanctuary”.
The court of Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati on Thursday issued a notice to the state authorities as well as the Patan district collector and sought a response from the respondent parties by January 29, when the court is due to take up the matter next.
Traditional agariyas do not require a license or lease to cultivate up to 10 acres of land for the production of salt by recommendation of the Salt Expert Committee constituted by the Government of India after Independence in the year 1948.
According to the petitioners, in a communication dated May 24, 2023, by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), addressing the Deputy Conservator of Forest, Wild Ass Sanctuary, Dhangadra, it was stated that “to prevent unauthorised salt pans producing salt and related activities, only those persons to whom the Agar Card will be issued, can enter in the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch to produce salt.”

Friday, December 29, 2023

Salt farming in Little Rann allowed for only 'eligible' Agariyas: Gujarat govt responds

Counterview: Ahmedabad: Friday, 29th Dec 2023.
Agariyas of the Santalpur block of Patan district, Gujarat, have not been allowed to enter the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) for salt farming since September 2023. After repeated representations at the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests' (PCCF's) office, Agariyas reached the Patan district collector to announce that they were going to protest against the “discrimination” done by the forest department.
Reacting to the Counterview story that 1,200 Agariyas are not being allowed to enter LRK in specific areas, PCCF (wild life) Nityanand Srivastava said, “We are allowing only those whose name are there in the settlement report”, though underlining, only those “eligible for one well” will be permitted to do salt farming. This is necessitated, he added, by the fact that in earlier years, it was noticed, people employed by non-salt farming sections “were doing salt farming not as a means of earning but as a business of others”, with many working on “10 to 15 wells”.
Salt cultivation with one well is possible for up to 10 acres of land.
The process of the Survey and Settlement Report, prepared in the wake of a World Bank conditionality for grant to conserve biodiversity of the LRK’s wild ass sanctuary, was initiated in September 1997 and ended in 2016. Said to be an incomplete survey, it identified only 189 Agariyas to be included in the list for Santalpur block, as against  estimates of up to 1,200.
A large number of Agariyas were left out from the survey as they were asked to produce ownership documents, which traditional Agariyas do not possess, say activists.
“There are lots of gaps in the Survey and Settlement Report”, believes Harinesh Pandya of the Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM). “LRK is largely an un-surveyed piece of land. It was identified as survey number zero in 2006. Ironically, the government does not have revenue record of LRK”.
Importantly, the expert committee formed by the Government of India in 1948 clearly mentions that small Agariyas (up to 10-acre of land) do not require any registration or permission or license. This issue was recognized by even the chief minister’s office in 2008, and directions were given that “suo moto camps should be held to taking into account the Agariyas' claims.”
Large number of Agariyas were not even aware of the Survey and Settlement process when it was supposedly carried out.
“This is one reason why, on 4th September 2023, it was decided that the Survey and Settlement Report would need to be revised after having ‘on-site’ surveys”, Pandya underlined.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Agariyas to protest in Gandhinagar

Times of India: Gujarat: Thursday, 28th Dec 2023.
Over 1,200 Agariyas, their families and communities like the Chunvaliya Koli, Sandhi, and Miyana all belonging to the denotified tribes now face the threat of losing their livelihoods as the Gujarat forest department bars their entry into the Little Rann of Kutch. Driven to the brink, the Agariyas have said in a press release that they now contemplate a to protest before the forest department in Gandhinagar.
These landless communities depend solely on salt harvesting for their sustenance. The Agariyas harvest salt across a large land mass that spreads across four districts and seven talukas. On Wednesday several representations were made at Patan district collectorate. From September to April, the Little Rann transforms into a brine lake and Agariyas migrate and establish their temporary settlements here to harvest salt.
“We have been making repeated representations to both our MLAs as well as to forest department. However, they even refuse to give us in writing the reason for refusal of entry,” says Sultan Agariya, one of the representative.

Refusal to allow salt farming in Little Rann 'pushes' 1200 Gujarat Agariyas to margins

Counterview: Gujarat: Thursday, 28th Dec 2023.
Unemployment is one of the severe and burning issues of our time. The government is celebrating Vibrant Gujarat, where one of the focuses for attracting investment is generating employment opportunities.
Agariyas represent to Patan district collector
Surprisingly, the forest department of Gujarat has snatched away livelihood of more than 1,200 Agariyas or salt farmers by banning their entry into the Little Rann of Kutch. They all are part of communities consisting such as Chunvaliya Koli, Sandhi, Miyana, all de-notified tribes, mostly landless and dependent solely on salt harvesting for their bread and butter.
By not allowing them to enter the Little Rann, the forest department has pushed these communities further towards marginalization, and probably to hunger.
Gujarat produces above 76% of India's total salt production. Agariyas, traditional salt farmers of Gujarat, have been harvesting salt in the Little Rann, which contributes around 20% of the total produce. They have a history of 600 years of salt harvesting in the Little Rann. Its evidence is well documented in historical documents like the Saurastra Gazettier and the Kathiyavad Sarva Sangrah.
Agariyas migrate to the Little Rann, along with their families in the month of September, and their farming season continues till April or May. The Little Rann is a 5,000 sq km area between Kutch, Patan, Morbi and Surendranagar districts which, turns into a water body for four months of the year and a mud dry desert for 8 months. Temperature during the day rises up to 50 degrees centigrade, while during night it falls to 4 or 5 degrees. They toil hard in scorching heat and shivering cold to add taste to our meal.
The Little Rann was declared Wild Ass Sanctuary in 1973. Wild asses have been conserved very well here, and its population has grown to over 6,000 in the past 50 years.
However, the government has failed to undertake survey and settlement of rights of the Agariyas and other communities as the per provision of the Wild Life Protection Act, because of which they is still termed as "illegal" encroachers and are given notices of eviction periodically. Such unrecognised status poses threat of eviction and loss of livelihood in the community.
Last year, the Agariyas were evicted from certain parts of the Little Rann. The sanctuary department declared that only those Agariyas whose name is included in the survey and settlement report would be allowed. That resulted is the exclusion of 90% of the traditional Agariyas.
The sanctuary department asked for documentary evidence of the possession of land. The fact that the Little Rann has always been an unsurveyed land, and even the government does not have revenue record of this area, was neglected while pressing Agariyas for producing documentary evidence of their ownership or possession of land.
A few months back, Agariyas across 4 districts and 7 talukas got together and made series of representations to their elected representatives and to the administration at district and state levels. They started meeting their MLAs and the ministers concerned. They also made representations to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the High Court, where cases regarding the Little Rann were being heard.
Finally, on the 4th of September 2023, a decision was made by the state, that all traditional Agariyas would be allowed to continue salt harvesting upon simple registration, the verification of which would be done during on-site survey. It was also decided that the survey and settlement process list would be revised by doing on-site survey so that seasonal user rights were recognised on a permanent basis.
The registration process was done in all the blocks, and in September many Agariyas moved to the Little Rann. Surprisingly, for no reason, the Agariyas from Santalpur and Adesar areas were asked not to go the Little Rann and were told that their decision would be taken soon.
"The forest department told us that they need some time to verify and finalize the list ... thus we were waiting. However, the forest department has still not allowing us to enter the Rann areas. We do not have any other source of livelihood and today sit ideal at home," says Narubhai Koli from the Santalpur Rann.
“While our fellow Agariyas in Dhangadhra, Patadi, Halvad, Maliya, blocke have already moved into the Rann two months back and their salt harvesting has started, we are not allowed to even make our salt farms ready. When decision was done for the entire Little Rann, we do not understand why such discrimination is done only with us?” he asserts.
Narubhai is farming salt since 6 generations and is disappointed with such dual and selective approach of the government. He adds, "We have been making repeated representations to both our MLA as well as to the forest department. However, they even refuse to give us anything in writing on the reason for refusal of entry.”
Another traditional Agariya Sultanbhai narrates, “When asked under the Right to Information (RTI) for transferring application from the state to the district forest officer (DFO), the latter declared that the decision for Santalpur and Adesar is completely in the hands of Gandhinagar officials."
"So our request is toggling between the Dhrangadhra DFO office and the principal chief conservator of forest’s (PCCF’s) office, Gandhinagar”, he adds.
With no other optional left, the Agariyas are now planning to go on protest before the forest department, Gandhinagar.