Business Standard: Mumbai/ Ahmedabad: Saturday, February 23, 2013.
Around 45,000 salt pan workers, locally known as agariyas, who work in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) have been left in the lurch, thanks to the process of survey and settlement of rights for the proposed Wild Ass Sanctuary, which has surprisingly not recognised these salt producers. The salt pan workers are quite miffed with the fact that while the government lacks records of the traditional work they do, the survey and settlement process demands the commmunity to prove their existence through documentary evidences.
In order to support the small salt producers, in 1948, the Government of India made special provision for the agariyas, where they did not require any permit or license to produce salt. "The Rann land belongs to the government of Gujarat and has been administered simultaneously by district collectors of Surendranagar, Rajkot, Mehsana, Banaskantha and Kutch. In spite of this, the land has never been surveyed. Under the land revenue department, the LRK has only one survey number—zero. This has resulted in no clarity as to the boundaries of the districts. Thus, the land lease given for the salt making in the Rann has never had any specific location or proper survey number as in other revenue areas," Harinesh Pandya, trustee, Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch said at a press conference today.
As per the provision of section 19 of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, the process of settlement of rights in the 'notified' sanctuary area has to be completed and a settlement report has to be prepared before the final declaration. Ironically, the process was initiated 24 years after the notification and is still on. Even as the process of 'survey and settlement of rights is going on since 1997, the agariyas have been getting notices for illegal occupation and eviction since November 2006.
As per the report by settlement officer, 2398 claims of salt pan-workers were verified by settlement officer of which 397 have have been approved. "In order for the sanctuary to come into effect, the settlement process of claims and rights have to be followed by a final notification by the Ministry of Environment or by the state assembly. But there is no mention of the agariyas in the report. Besides, many agariyas claim ignorance about receiving any notice for filing claims and an analysis indicates that at some places, many claims were forged," Pandya added.
India is the third largest salt producer in the world and salt pan workers of Little Rann of Kutch produce about 30 per cent of country's total salt and fifty per cent of Gujarat's total salt. There are about 12,000-15,000 families which work as salt workers from 107 villages in LRK.
The season for salt harvesting is from September to June when over 10,000 agariya families wade three kilometers deep in the deserts in search of livelihood. A worker earns about Rs 140 per tonne of salt.
The workers are now fearing the treat of displacement and loss of livelihood, as they have been receiving notices rejecting their claims, without even applying for any.