Times of India: Ahmedabad: Thursday, May 12, 2016.
Agariyas, Maldharis And Fisherfolk Left With No Legal Resort .
Salt pan workers, fishing community and maldharis in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) should be given their respective rights -salt making, fishing and pastoral land grazing. When denied these rights, locals illegally make salt and graze cattle in the forest area, leading to hassles with the forest department, a study commissioned by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has found.
During the 2012 assembly election campaign, salt pan workers met Congress leader and All India Congress Committee vice-president Rahul Gandhi. They demanded that they be given their legal rights within the forest area.
The study stated that in the absence of these rights, the locals come in conflict with conservation authorities. The study titled `Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvement Project -Social and Environmental Assessment of Little Rann of Kutch Landscape,' has stated that giving the locals the rights they deserve will help the conservation of the wild ass and the environment. The study reveals that residents of Nimak Nagar “did not refer to any problems but were extremely antagonistic to the wild ass because their livelihoods -that is salt making and fishing -are at stake.“ The people of Taga said the increasing population of wild ass has resulted in the animals raiding their crops.
Alot of respondents also said that since salt making activity was mostly illegal without their rights being guaranteed, salt producers did not get good prices for their produce. “When there were leases on the land in the past, salt producers got Rs 140 per tonne. Now they are left at the mercy of merchants. The salt workers continue in this trade for lack of any other occupation.“ At Chikli village the study reveals that people have almost been forced out of salt making because of poor brine quality .They have either become labourers in the salt transportation work or agricultural labourers. People had no idea of the wild ass. They only knew that migratory birds came to that area. LRK communities also have no access to any of the government's development schemes.
Forest dept misrepresents facts, allege Maldharis :
Locals Maldhari community members say that the forest department misrepresents facts to the government. Pastoral farming has to continue but the wild ass has to survive as well, they said.The study revealed that the community feels that the government is more concerned about saving the wild ass. They are not bothered about cattle and the villagers who struggle to rear them. The say that if in a village of 100 households at least 50 households have been destroyed. Today, there are only 5,000 heads of cattle left instead of 20,000, earlier. The study reveals that grazing land has to be made available to them, or the villagers will be forced to sell livestock. TNN
Roads and Railway :
The LRK landscape has all-weather roads, but with movement of heavy vehicles for salt collection, some interior roads are in bad shape.In terms of railway lines, this region has one of the oldest established rail networks, primarily geared towards salt transportation. TNN
Health condition of saltpan workers :
Health condition of the people working in saltpans drew the attention of the scholars.Health problems primarily include skin-related issues due to working long hours in brine and malnourishment among children. Recently, mobile medical units have been formed to reach people in saltpans. The scale of such activities is minuscule compared for the expanse of the landscape and they need to be scaled up to have any real impact.Epidemics of malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia are common in the monsoon months among the residents. Most child deliveries are at home, with the help of trained midwives. TNN
Illiteracy is highly prevalent among agariyas. This is attributed to their migratory nature.
Along with the maldharis, the agariyas too are in far flung salt pans for half the year, taking their children along with them. As a result, children remain out of school.