Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Flooding of saltpans: Workers threaten to boycott local body polls

The Indian Express: Rajkot: Tuesday, 02 February 2021.
Dozens of workers assembled in the desert at Kharaghoda, the entry point to the LRK near Patdi in Surendranagar district, holding placards announcing their decision to boycott the elections if discharge of Narmada waters was not stopped.
Claiming that Narmada waters discharged into the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) through rivers had damaged their saltpans in hundreds of hectares, a group of agariyas (saltpan workers) staged a demonstration at Kharaghoda and threatened to boycott the upcoming local body elections if the discharge of freshwater was not stopped.
Dozens of workers assembled in the desert at Kharaghoda, the entry point to the LRK near Patdi in Surendranagar district, holding placards announcing their decision to boycott the elections if discharge of Narmada waters was not stopped.
“I have been doing pata (cultivating salt on a stretch of land) for years but water is washing away my embankments. I am halfway through the salt-cultivation season and if the water discharge is not stopped, I will lose all my production. I plead government and officers of Narmada to listen to us,” said Gunvant Thakor, one of the agariyas cultivating salt in Kuda desert area in LRK.
Thakor said that around 5,000 agariyas were affected by flooding in the LRK and were facing the prospect of “no harvest of salt”.
Harinesh Pandya, president of Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM), an NGO working for the welfare of agariyas, said that around 140 patas or clusters of saltpans were damaged by flooding.
“The agariyas start working on their field in November and salt becomes ready for harvest by March-April. However, around 140 patas in the 70 km long and four km wide stretch from Patdi to Halvad on the border of Wild Ass Sanctuary have been damaged due to flooding… over the past two months. Each agariya stand to lose salt worth around Rs 7 to Rs 8 lakh,” Pandya said.
LRK, a 440-square kilometre expanse of mudflats gets inundated during monsoon as rivers such as Banas, Luni, Khari, Rupen of north Gujarat and Brahmani of Saurashtra drain into the desert. But the floodwaters generally clear by the onset of winter, making the desert land available for salt cultivation.
“But over the past decade, unseasonal flooding has been witnessed in the desert every alternate year due to mismanagement of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL). Following demand by farmers, the SSNNL releases water into its canal network and rivers but many a time, the discharge volume is much more than what the farmers require… Due to this, agariyas are losing their livelihood and lakhs of gallons of fresh water goes waste,” Pandya added.
Rajiv Kumar Gupta, managing director of SSNNL, said that Vivek Kapadia, director of SSNNL, who had done a lot of work in this should be contacted.
Kapadia said the SSNNL was cognisant of the matter but claimed that discharge from Narmada canal network was not the only reason. “We had released some water in Rupen from Narmada main canal following demand from farmers… This can be one of the contributing factors to the flooding. But monsoon was very good in north Gujarat this year and there is sub-surface flow from rivers such as Luni, Banas, Khari, Rupen, etc. There are other drains also. All this might be causing flooding. But we acknowledge the issue and are looking ways to address it,” he said.
Claiming that salt cultivation in LRK is unconventional, Kapadia added, “Unlike the conventional method of channeling seawater into saltpans, agariyas here exploit brakish groundwater… there are other issues as well and require a multi-department response. We are working on this.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Gujarat: ‘Salt workers living hand-to-mouth existence’

 Indian Express: Ahmedabad: Wednesday, 30 September 2020.
During the audit, it was also noticed that “there were no efforts on improvement of the economic condition of salt workers and they continue to live in a hand-to-mouth position.”
Salt workers in Gujarat have been largely bereft of benefits from welfare schemes owing to serious lacuna in imposition of basic clauses to deter exploitation in leaseholder agreements as well as due to lack of inter-departmental coordination and an absence of long-term policy in place, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report has revealed.
Simple proposals by the Bhavnagar District Salt Manufacturers Association of providing workers with rechargeable torches in Bhavnagar in 2015 were not fulfilled, neither were proposals to build 69 bathroom and toilets. Proposals for electricity, mid-day meals and tents for salt workers and education or distribution of dress for children of salt pan workers in Morbi, are on the backburner. In fact, the audit observed, “The functioning of DLEC (District-Level Empowered Committee) was not result-oriented,” with 36 of the total 73 work proposals made during 2014-19 in 36 DLEC meetings in seven districts (Patan, Bhavnagar, Kutch, Amreli, Bharuch, Morbi, Surendranagar), seeing no final outcome.
The audit noted that there was “no coverage of salt workers under the Swachchh Bharat Mission” and during joint site visits in May and July 2019 of the lease site of 17 salt units in Bhavnagar and nine units in Kutch, it was observed that none of the salt units provided toilet facilities to the workers. “Thus, the salt workers and particularly women faced difficulties and were deprived of their privacy and hygiene,” the report, submitted on the last day of the Assembly session, observed.
Patan DLEC, which proposed the least number of works (3), told the audit of a peculiar issue when questioned on their poor performance.
According to the authorities, the auditors were informed that the areas where the salt workers are working in Patan district, fall under Wild Ass Sanctuary and the Forest Department does not allow any work in their area as a result of which the line departments are not proposing any work for the salt workers.”
In Bharuch, no DLEC meetings were held for two consecutive years (2017-18, 2018-19) and in Amreli none were held for three consecutive years (2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19). Maximum works were proposed by Surendranagar DLEC (25) with meetings held every year between 2014 and 19.
District offices forward proposals for welfare works to DLECs which then recommends the same to state-level empowered committees (SLECs) for approval.
A glaring gap noticed in the audit was no accountability of the salt pan leaseholders, with the lease agreements devoid of basic conditions to ensure the workers’ welfare. The administration of salt leases is carried out by the Industries and Mining Department of the government.
The audit found no condition in salt lease for housing to salt workers, leaving them “either at the mercy of salt unit owners for their basic housing requirement or have to manage themselves.” The audit noticed that no housing scheme was launched for salt workers and in its visit in May and July 2019 to houses of salt workers at salt leases in Bhavnagar, Kachchh and Bharuch districts, poor condition of houses of salt workers was observed.
The condition of providing toilets and bathrooms for hygiene and sanitation were not prescribed in the standard salt lease agreements prepared by the Industries Commissionerate or the Industries and Mining Department of Gujarat government in October 2010 and neither were there any standard terms for medical facilities to salt workers by the leaseholders.
“Thus, it was not mandatory for lease holders for construction of toilets and bathrooms…the lease holder was not made responsible to provide medical aid or first aid treatment at the work site to any salt worker… Further, there is no provision for providing group medical insurance for them. In addition, the lease conditions do not provide for ensuring the salt workers and their families inoculated against cholera, plague or other epidemic diseases and vaccinated against smallpox at the time of employment,” the audit observed.
There was neither any guarantee of payment of minimum wages, thus stripping the workers off of any protection against economic exploitation. “The welfare of the salt workers who are hired by big salt units (above 10 acres), their protection against economic exploitation can be ensured through provision of condition for minimum wages, provident fund and insurance by the unit owners in their lease agreement and monitoring of compliance to the lease terms. Audit observed that the standard lease condition does not include any such provision,” the report notes.
Basic amenities such as drinking water, housing, sanitation, roads remain unfulfilled for the major part of the seven districts that the auditors looked at. Funds sanctioned and allocated for the salt workers’ welfare aggregating to Rs 34.69 crore (27 per cent of the total grant provided by the government) remained unutilized during 2014-19 and no expenditure was incurred on housing facilities.
During the audit, it was also noticed that “there were no efforts on improvement of the economic condition of salt workers and they continue to live in a hand-to-mouth position.”
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who, in August 2019, had launched an initiative titled Mukhyamantri Sathe, Mokla Mane (With the Chief Minister, with an open mind) meeting different sections of society to discuss issues concerning them, had met with salt pan workers last year. An issue was raised by a Surendranagar worker at the time where a hostel was refusing to enrol salt workers’ children beyond Class VIII, which was then resolved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

After Covid lockdowns, extended monsoon rubs salt into the wounds of Gujarat's Agariyas : D P Bhattacharya

 Economic Times: Gandhinagar: Tuesday, 29 September 2020.
As October lurks around the corner, Bharat Somera is worried. By now, he should have been in the Rann, setting up his pan to produce salts. But so far with the incessant monsoon, his workplace is under several feet of water.
Somera is not alone. Thousands of salt pan workers of Gujarat, who spent eight months in a
year in the open Rann of Kutch producing salt are in a x. If the lockdown ate into their half of
previous season, extended monsoon is now biting into their current one.
Salt pan workers or Agariyas as they are commonly known in Gujarat migrate to Little Rann of Kutch with their families to set up their pans by September at the end of monsoon and continue working till May or even June depending on the arrival of monsoon, when the Rann gets totally submerged under water. The process of setting up the pan takes some time and typically process of production starts after mid-October.
“We can’t go now though we should have,” Somera told ET from Patadi block in Surendranagar District. “Obviously a delayed start will reduce production and we have to bear
another hit yet again,” he adds. “Also, the government occasionally releases water in the Rann, which ruins the salt pans and with excessive rains, that is a fear that we shall always have,” he added.
Gujarat for the records produces almost 74 percent of India’s total salt production of 25 million tonnes. “The production cycle was delayed even last year due to prolonged rain and the first crop of salt had come in around mid-December,” says Bharat Raval, President of Indian Salt Manufacturers Association. Speaking to ET from Jamnagar Raval pointed out that while lockdown due to COVID19 had little direct effect among the salt pan workers, who were working in the remote Rann areas, the production and distribution took a hit which in turn effected the Agariyas.
“Salt production is a seasonal and heavily weather dependent activity which majorly depends on rains,” Raval pointed out adding that while the industry had only about four months of productivity in the last season due to a delayed start, lockdown and timely arrival of monsoon
this year, it is all set to lose couple of more months this year due to rains.
“We are looking at a 30 per cent reduced, production this year as well,” Raval told ET.
“Between 2019-20 and 2020-21 we are losing out almost an entire season and that way even to break even the expenditures will be difficult for the Agariyas,” he added.
“Agarias were hit primarily because the lockdown chocked up the supply lines for a period and then the halting of exports which would lead to lesser price,” said Ghanshyam Zula an activist from Santalpur in Patan District. “Now again losing a month will prove costly for the community,” he added.
“Across the state almost 18,000 families are involved in salt pans across Rann and coastal areas,” said Pankti Jog from Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM) in Ahmedabad. “We are talking about 50000 people here,” she added. “For these people, there is not much of an option for their livelihood on one hand and secondly a fall in Salt production will have major impact in other industries,” she added.
Raval however pointed out that while India’s production of Salt has gone up from 15.6 million tonnes in 2000 to the range of 35-38 million tonnes by 2020 as of now the reduced production will not have significant impact on domestic market. However, the impact will largely be borne by the industry and the Agariyas, who are looking at a much-reduced yield for yet another season of hard work in the Sun, he added.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Gujarat salt industry hit by US-China trade war : BY RAJNISH MISHRA

Forbes India: Gandhidham (Gujarat): Wednesday, 11 December 2019
China is the largest importer of Indian salt, 80 percent of which comes from Gujarat. As demand for its finished products is falling, so is that of the raw material used, causing the state's salt manufacturers and farmers losses of more than Rs 100 crore
Forty-five-year-old Narubhai Koli, a traditional Agariya (salt farmer) in Gujarat, is confused at the current state of the salt industry.
Koli, a resident of Santalpur village in Patan district, was told by the salt trader, to whom he sells his produce, that there is a slowdown in the market and thus, he won't be able to buy more salt, without further explanation.
Truth is that the trade war between the United States and China has hit the salt industry in Gujarat, the primary salt producing state of India and also the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. China is the largest importer of salt from India; China’s chemical factories, which consume the most salt, have cut down on purchases as demand for their finished products decelerated because of increased US tariffs.
Like Koli, numerous salt farmers have felt the hit of this slowdown, but aren’t aware of how the trade war between two other countries is impacting their livelihoods, says Harinesh Pandya, founder of Agariya Heetrakshak Manch, an NGO which works for the welfare of small salt farmers.
Indian Salt Manufacturers’ Association (ISMA) vice-president Shamji Kangad told Forbes India that salt export to China has halved from normal levels. Kangad is a director at Neelkanth Salt and Supply, a Gujarat-based company that deals with manufacturing and exporting salt.
Of the 30 million tonnes of salt produced in India every year, Gujarat accounts for 80 percent of production. While the annual turnover of Gujarat salt manufacturing industry is roughly Rs 2,000 crore, the border state exports about 10 million tonnes of its annual production to China and Japan, earning about Rs 700 crore. Around 4 million tonnes of salt is exported to China every year for de-icing and industrial purposes.
According to Kangad, demand from China dropped by about 0.5 million tonnes between January and June, and dipped by the same amount in July. August saw a further decline by another 0.2 million tonnes. Gujarat’s salt makers are currently exporting 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of salt to China. The export revenue has reduced to between Rs 100 crore and Rs 150 crore since January.
A study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that US imports from China subject to tariffs fell to $95 billion between January and June, from $130 billion during the same period in 2018.
“For the rest of the year, we assume another fall of around 0.4 to 0.6 million tonnes in exports to China,” added Kangad who is also the secretary of Kutch Small Scale Salt Manufacturers Association.
Pandya adds that the salt farmers live in the Little Rann of Kutch for eight months of the year, an area which is submerged in the monsoon. “They live in extremely difficult conditions to generate yield. The government has allocated 10 acres to each family to produce 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes of salt annually, to earn about Rs 50,000 per year,” he says.
“Now, they are struggling with excess stock. They already live in miserable conditions. This trade war is likely to have a great impact on them,” he added.
Rain check
BC Raval, president of the ISMA which is a 70-year-old body of salt makers comprising big names such as Tata, Birla and Nirma said that China uses Indian salt to primarily make caustic soda, soda ash and glass, along with detergent and textiles. Some other industries that need it as a raw material are case-hardened steel, rubber, brass, paper, plastic and polyester.
Huge mounds of salt are visible in the open at production sites in coastal parts of the Kutch district and adjoining areas. However, despite the bleak export scenario with China, the unusually heavy rain in Kutch region has played a saviour of sorts.
The heavy September rains in the otherwise dry Kutch region has washed away a substantial portion of the salt stocks kept in the open. This has not only improved the quality of the salt by washing away impurities like magnesium, but also balanced the stock.
Laxman Tejabhai Ahir, the owner of the TM Ahir Salt Works in Moti Chirai village in the Kutch district, said that Kutch received about 25 percent of the average rainfall last year, compared to the current year’s 160 percent. As there was limited rainfall last year, much of the stock was not washed away. As exports to China declined, the stock increased during July and August, he added.
However, due to the extended monsoon, the normal production period is also likely to be delayed by a month or two, starting in December or January instead of November, giving manufacturers some buffer time to adjust for the extra stock.
“The rains have made the salt purer, and thus, costlier,” adds Abhishek Parekh, executive director of Ankur Chemfood, a major processor and packager of salt in Kutch. “The rain reduces magnesium content in the salt by four to five times, and save the client purification costs. That’s why this set will command a premium.”
The next steps
Every year, about seven million tonnes of salt are used for domestic purposes, and another seven million by Indian industries, mainly caustic soda manufacturers.
Crude oil rates increased up to $66 per barrel and caused a subsequent rise of $5 to $6 in the freight per ton for shipment from the Kandla port in Gujarat to China, due to which the exports also became non-viable. Kangda predicts that if the US-China trade war continues, crude prices could go up to $70 a barrel, which would be a big problem for the salt industry.
Production next year is expected to be around 30 percent lower than the normal figure of around 24 million tonnes in the state. Salt exported to China is normally priced at Rs 500 to Rs 800 per ton, while raw or low-quality salt is not exported. Japan takes 90 percent of its total imports in the form of high-grade salt, while China imports 50 percent of high-grade and 50 percent medium-grade salt, which it uses for industrial purposes.
Kangda says that export incentives for salt-manufacturing establishments are crucial. “The salt industry has provided jobs to a large number of people, despite the low-cost product and comparatively smaller turnover,” he says. “Moreover, the lease renewal procedure is tiresome, and should be revised. Firms are given a two-year lease, which prevents them from having long-term export agreements.”
(The author is an Ahmedabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Post-monsoon rains, Narmada woes grip Gujarat's 8,000 salt producers of Little Rann

Counterview: Ahmedabad: Thursday, 07 November 2019
For the last two days, block officials responsible for disaster mitigation as also other officials are trying their level best to persuade the agariyas of the Rann of Kutch and coastal areas to return to their villages. Four days back, around 150 visitors to the Vaccharajpur Temple, fondly known as ‘Vacchada dada nu mandir’, got stuck in the muddy surroundings, as their vehicles could not move due to sudden rain.
Youths from Zinzuwada villages came to the rescue of the devotees. Only  villagers living in the periphery know the vast expanse of the Rann thoroughly. Just by looking at the mud pattern and humidity they can sense how safe or dangerous could it be during the day. All the devotees were brought back safe.
Two days later, there came the warning of Maha cyclone and heavy rainfall. The local Sankalan Samiti, or the coordination committee, chaired by the deputy collector, met in the presence of the local MLA, discussing several serious issues concerning the Rann, especially hundreds of agariyas, who had already already moved to the Rann for salt cultivation.
No doubt, rainfall at the start of the season usually saves some amount they spend on diesel, which they require to pump out water to make bunds for saltpans and level the beds of the saltpans. This earthen work continues for a month, after which agariyas pour water into saltpans in order to cultivate salt.
“One barrel of crude oil/diesel is saved if we get rain water during this time”, said Keshubhai Surani, one of the salt farmers from Ghatila Rann area, pointing towards the reason why most of the agariyas did not leave Rann despite recent post-monsoon rain. One barrel costs around Rs 12,500, an amount which they usually borrow from trader.
"However", he admitted, “This time, prolonged post-monsoon rains affected us. We wouldn't be able to cultivate crystal salt for more than six months this year.” Traditional salt farmers of the Rann make crystal salt, called Vadagaru, or Poda which takes six months to take the shape of full size crystal to fetch price of up to 24 paisa per kg.
Surani continued, “This time rainfall continued for quite some time. The Rann got filled up with much more water than what we required. Block officials, activists working with the agariyas, belonging to the Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM), and community leaders had to work overtime to evacuate them from the Rann.
These agariyas had already made their makeshift huts, a temporary shelter during their stay in the Rann . But as water levels increased, they were in a dire straits. The whole area got flooded. It was impossible to keep their utensils, blankets, grocery, everything, safe. They had to leave the Rann immediately. They had to walk several kilometres through water with muddy and slippery ground to reach their villages safe.
Their woes did not end here. Narmada department engineers conveyed to the agariyas that they too would release extra water into the Rann from the Narmada branch canal. They wanted to ensure that the agariya are not trapped, hence they contacted agariya leaders and AHRM team members.
Agariyas told the engineers it was not a good idea to release Narmada water into the Rann. One of the leaders told a senior Narmada engineer, “If Narmada water is released, we will not be able to go into the Rann for another 20 days and continue with salt cultivation.” They were not sure if Narmada officials would listen to their plight.
Meanwhile, water level in some parts of Santalpur and Visanagar Rann started rising. This could happen only if water was being released from the Narmada branch canal. One official confided to an agariya leader off the record, had they not released it, the poorly constructed canal's safety would be at stake.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat government announced compensation for farmers for crop damage due to heavy rainfall this season. However, the salt producers were at a loss: They wouldn't be getting any of it.
Rued an agariya leader, “Each agariya has suffered huge losses. We have been cultivating salt in Survey No Zero – as the land on which the saltpans are situated is known -- for centuries. No doubt, the government has reaches us with water supply, education, mobile health van, spending huge amount for welfare and development. But when it comes to compensation for our losses, we do not exist”.
“If you look at the past 10 years, every year either agariyas are at a loss due to unseasonal rains, or due to sudden release of Narmada water. Agariyas have been demanding compensation. Sometimes officials do conduct survey and seek details. But no compensation is ever paid”, said Harinesh Pandya, trustee, AHRM, which has been working with the agariya community for the last 15 years.
“On one hand, despite salt farming for decades and centuries, they are deprived of their land use rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). On the other, they are excluded from any protection mechanism like compensation or insurance cover. How can the state behave like this? Why can’t it come up with a fair policy to protect salt farmers? After all they contribute 1/5th of the total salt produced in Gujarat,” he added.
The present and the future of over 8,000 agariya families from nearly 110 villages of Surendranagar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts is at stake. Nature and government both are unkind to agariyas, leaving them at the receiving end.

Monday, October 21, 2019



Tuesday, May 07, 2019

"Raan-Shala" स्कूल ओन व्हील्स Santalpur DD Report

Friday, April 26, 2019

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Will election change fate of the Agariyas of Gujarat? : By Sharanya Deepak

Aljazeera: Asia: Saturday, December 16, 2017.
Rann of Kutch, India - The Agariyas tribe in Gujarat's Rann of Kutch desert near the Arabian Sea is excited yet doubtful as to whether elections in one of India's most industrialised states will change their fortunes.
Marked by mass illiteracy, lack of education and health facilities, and political underrepresentation, the community lives on the margins of the Gujarati society.
For eight months between mid-November and August, Agariya people live in the desert, working under extreme weather conditions, helping to produce about 76 percent of India's salt.
They have been salt producers for generations, and consist today of around 10,000 families, comprising 45,000 people, mostly located in the Rann of Kutch region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has projected Gujarat as a model of development worth emulating at the national level. He ran the state government for nearly 13 years until 2014.
But the model, which has been said to work on the pillars of electricity, water and sanitation for all, has provided none of these for the Agariyas.
Few signs of development
Even though long electric lines cover the Little Rann, the Agariya homes are still without electricity, with few visible signs of the development that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claims.
"In Maliya [in Morbi district] itself, there is no waste disposal system, no proper school, no electricity most of the time," said Ramesh Katesiya, a social worker from Anandi, a local NGO working among the community.
"There was a bus stand that got destroyed in the 2001 earthquake in Bhuj. They still have not reconstructed that," said Katesiya, referring to the village closest to where the Agariyas of Morbi district live.
"He has never even been here to see which people actually live and contribute to Gujarat's apparent progress," he added, referring to Modi, who has extensively campaigned during the state elections.
Many Agariyas with whom Al Jazeera spoke expressed their anger against the ruling BJP party, which has been in power for most of the last 21 years.
Overlooked by the political class for decades, the Agariyas now show little enthusiasm in the election process. This year, an election campaign held by the District Collector in Surendranagar district has raised awareness of the importance of political participation.
There are no hospitals within close reach of the Agariyas, or routine check-ups by state officials to ensure their health.
In Morbi, the nearest government hospitals are 20 to 100 kilometres away from the salt farmers. There are no roads or public transport that lead inside the Rann, leaving the Agariyas stranded in times of medical emergency.
"The Agariyas live for eight months a year without electricity, basic shelter and any medicine," Katesiya said. "Because of their laborious work, they are prone to high fevers, tuberculosis, dehydration and severe skin burns during the summer months. In the last election, the BJP won all eight seats in this region, but still, they [the government] did nothing to help the people here. Because of that, the opposition [Congress party] has begun to gain a stronghold in these parts."
Makeshift camps
It is December, and the salt season has just begun. The sand is being pumped for brine by machines that run on diesel. The brine will then be distributed into channels, where it will cook for three months to become salt.
Because of the lack of roads and public transport into the desert, the Agariyas are forced to live in makeshift camps in the desert for eight months of the year.
Savita Dhirubhai Koli, like other members of her community, works on land of about four hectares for 12 to 14 hours a day.
During the rains, the desert sand turns into a heavy marsh, making walking or riding a motorcycle on it difficult.
"It has been a month since we arrived," said Koli, who lives in a hut made from jute bags and tarpaulin in Gulbadi, a stretch of desert in the Morbi district. "I just finished building the house, but now that it has rained, it is very wet, and water has already settled inside."
During the rains, water seeps in easily, and a strong wind destroys many Agariya homes.
In winters, temperatures are as low as 2 degrees, but the Agariyas, along with their children, continue to live in these desert huts that offer no protection from extreme weather conditions.
"We have nothing to keep warm," said Raju, a salt farmer from the Agariya community from the Morbi district, around 10 kilometres from the Arabian Sea. "I have three small children. They always get sick. But what can I do?"
Salt farmers mostly work as labourers employed by middlemen or large salt firms. They make Rs 25-35 ($0.40-$0.50) for each tonne of salt they produce.
Before the season begins, the Agariyas take a loan from an informal credit system called "dhiraan", which they pay back at the time of harvest.
At the end of eight months, they produce around 3,000 tonnes - for which, after their loan has been deducted, they make only around Rs 40,000 ($600).
"Players like Dev Salt drain the backwaters with their large machines," said Marut, an activist with the Agariya Rashtriya Heet Manch (AHRM). "It is a threat to the smaller farms like the ones in Haripar."
State support 'absent'
This July, severe floods hit Gujarat - and in Maliya alone, 30,000 tonnes of salt was washed away. The erratic rains have also delayed the production season, causing the Agariyas to worry that they may have to work extra days in the coming winter months.
While Agariyas were landowners in the past, the declaration of the Little Rann as Wild Ass Sanctuary in 1978 established that the government would own all the land.
"This has reduced previously land-owning Agariya families to positions of tenancy," said Pankti Jog, an activist with the AHRM. "But even then, state support or assistance on this land or the process is absent."
In Haripar in Morbi district, closer to the highway, mobility is easier than in other parts of the Rann. Of the around 1,500 Agariyas who work here, some have solar panels and can go back to nearby villages in case of extreme weather.
But even here, hospitals are at least 20 kilometres away, and there are no schools anywhere in sight.
"The district collector told us if we collect children, he will help us make a temporary school," said Sunita, an Agariya who lives in Haripar. "But even if we do, where will they make the school? Who will come to teach here in the middle of the desert?"
The Agariya literacy rate is close to zero, leaving no opportunities for social mobility for the next generation.
"Our children begin working when they are 10 years old," said Ramesh, Sunita's husband. "If we don't produce enough, the buyers will go to someone else, so we have to keep him happy."
Areas of the Little Rann are also called Survey Zone Zero, as no census has been conducted here since Indian independence from the British colonial rulers in 1947.
"The absence of a census, or proper data on the Agariyas, makes it hard to know what they go through and what they need," Jog said. "Including the Agariyas is a matter of state governance, which has not been done until now."
Maintaining hope
In Morbi district, there is hope among the Agariyas that a new government, unlike the present BJP, may listen to their concerns.
"We will tell them we need roads, so we don't have to live out here in the cold, and education for our children," Ramesh said. "If the (BJP) government can build tall, expensive buildings in the city, why can't they spare some money for our roads and homes?"
While one official in Haripar has promised to send a car to bring Agariyas to the polling station, in Gulbadi and the Rann surrounding Surendrangar district and faraway settlements, no such arrangements have been made. Moreover, the declaration of the Little Rann as a sanctuary prohibits mobile voting booths to enter it, making it impossible for Agariyas far away to participate.
"The ones who live 30 to 50 kilometres away will try to come," Jog said. "But those 100 kilometres or so away from their villages, how will they go to vote?"
On December 9, some Agariyas will come to vote in the first phase of the elections, travelling by vehicle from the nearest possible point, and others - the more resilient - will walk.
"If I can work for 14 hours in the sun, I can walk 15 kilometres to cast a vote," said Kumar, who lives in Gulbadi. "It is possible that nothing changes with any new government. But we have to make them notice us; maybe that will be a start."