Charul Shah; DNA; Ahmedabad; April 21, 2011,
The notices issued to salt manufacturing units and Agarias has sent shock waves through the community. The people of the industry and social activists have condemned the step taken by the government stating that salt manufacturing is an eco-friendly industry. It does not affect wildlife of the sanctuary.
Objecting to the government's decision to close Agaria units, Harinesh Pandya from Agaria Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM), an NGO working for the development of the Agaria community in Kutch, told DNA that the government has misinterpreted the order of Gujarat high court.
In a petition filed by Amit Jethwa, the state HC had directed the government to stop illegal mining near wildlife sanctuaries. The court had disposed off the petition when the government had given an undertaking that it would take steps to stop illegal mining.
Pandya added that the government's move of sending notices to the units for closure was illegal and it had failed to follow due process as noted under the Wildlife Protection Act.
"Salt-making processes are done on the surface and they can't be considered mining. Traditional Agaria workers have been in this profession much before independence. The state government has taken special steps to create infrastructure for the growth of the salt industry and now it is asking them to close their units. This is unjustified. The Agarias depend upon the salt farming and related activities for their livelihood. And if they are asked to close down salt manufacturing units, they will become unemployed. Their families would suffer too," Pandya stated.
Bachu Ahir, president of Indian Salt Manufacturer's Association (Isma) told DNA that there are over 25,000 Agarias working on the fields used for salt farming. These fields are around the boundary of the proposed sanctuary. If the units are closed the Agarias will lose their source of livelihood. Further, the salt industry will suffer huge losses.
The Marine Salt Manufacturer's Association has made a representation to the collector of Rajkot. In the letter, DU Jadeja, president of the organisation, has said that the government should cancel the notification issued in 1973 declaring its intention to declare the area around the Little Rann of Kutch as a wildlife sanctuary.
Jadeja has further stated in the letter that the activities of salt manufacturing do not harm the environment and as they are non-polluting. He added that the wild asses do not come near the salt farms because of the geographical location.
Heeralal Parekh, former president of Isma told DNA that currently Gujarat contributes as much as 75% to the nation's salt manufacturing industry. If the government starts closing down units around the proposed boundary of the wild ass sanctuary, it would give a serious jolt to the salt manufacturing industry.