Industrialization along Kutch coastal area in Gujarat has adversely affected livelihood options of local villagers: IRMA study

fishermenCounterview.org takes a look at how industrialization along the Kutch coastal region in Gujarat has adversely affected livelihood of the rural folk:

In a recent study paper, “Impact of industrialization on rural community in Jharpara village (Kutch District)”, Prof Ila Patel has said that in recent years Gujarat has been projected as a “shining example” of rapid economic growth and development through private investment, with Gujarat government playing a pivotal role in creating a “favourable business environment”. Patel, who is professor at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), suggests, unfortunately, policy makers “assume” that this type of development would lead to improvement in the quality of life of people. However, they do not realize that diversion of land for industrialization, though crucial for development, “is fraught with contradictions when viewed from the perspective of the affected rural communities.”

Keeping this context in view, the study – whose main purpose is to understand the impact of industrialization and land acquisition on rural livelihoods in Jharpara, one of the coastal villages affected by Mundra Port and SEZ (MPSEZ), in the Mundra taluka of Kutch district in Gujarat – finds out how  “effectiveness of industrialization to facilitate development cannot be viewed in isolation from the environmental and distributional impact of loss of land and other resources on rural communities who depend on existing natural resources and land for sustenance of their livelihoods.”

In the post-January 2001 earthquake period Kutch district witnessed massive industrial development. The coastal region of Mundra taluka has become a new hub of industrialization and infrastructural projects. It houses the state-of-the-art private port and one of the largest port-based SEZs. Adani Port and SEZ (APSEZ), earlier known as the Mundra Port and SEZ Limited (MPSEZL), is one of the most ambitious projects and SEZ of the state. It is India’s first multi-product, port-based SEZ, spread over approximately 3225.68 hectares (ha) land, acquired from 14-15 villages over a period of time.

Besides the private port, Adani Group has also built jetty and constructed roads, a private railway line, an airport, power plant, warehouses, townships, etc. in the area under its command. In the coastal region of Mundra taluka, TATA and OPG have also set up thermal power plants of 4000 MW and 2600 MW capacity respectively.

Even as industrialization took place, this region has seen growing protest on the part of local communities and civil society organizations against the potential damage to marine ecology by the activities of Mundra port and diversion of the large tracts of common gauchar (grazing) land of the villages to the SEZ. Seeking to understand the impact of industrialization on rural livelihoods in Jharpara, one of the coastal villages, located in the agriculture-horticulture belt of the Mundra taluka in Kutch district, the study suggests how local people’s livelihood options shrank.

Jharpara is a multi-caste village with a population of 7353, distributed in 2,018 households. The village households could be divided between three main communities – the backward caste of charan gadhavi (70 per cent), the scheduled caste of maheshwari  (15 per cent), and the wagher muslims (12 per cent). Traditionally, the major source of livelihood for gadhavis was agriculture, wage labour (farm and non-farm sectors) for maheshwaris, and fishing for the waghers. “Over a period of time, however, industrialization has had a direct or indirect impact on the livelihoods of all communities”, the scholar explains, adding, “The traditional fishing community of the wagher muslims is the most marginalized section of the village. Damaged marine ecology owing to the activities of the Adani Port has had an adverse impact on the livelihood of fisherfolks.” The study is based on primary data collected through focus group discussions (FGDs) with the villagers from fishing and farming communities, a survey of 212 households, and 38 interviews with key informants.

Giving an overview of the fishing activity of the area, the scholar says, “Generally, the fisherfolk set up banders – temporary village hamlets – close to the sea and stay in thatched huts with the family for nearly eight months every year. Fishermen go for fishing whenever the tide arrives, while fisherwomen sort, grade, and dry the fish caught. They do the vending of dried and fresh fish in the local market at Mundra. Apart from boat fishing, most fishermen practiced pagadiya fishing – ‘fishing on foot’ by fixing nets in intertidal zones near the coast.”

However, with the setting up of the port, Patel says, “the movement of ships on the port has made it difficult for fishermen with smaller boats to catch fish in the same water. With the thinning of intertidal zones due to port activities fish catch has reduced over a period of time. Pollution of sea water by the power plants has also damaged both the quality and quantity of fish in the area.” In fact, “operations of the Adani Port and the other industries on the coastal region of Mundra have had an adverse impact on the livelihood of the fishing community of Jharpara in several ways.”

“Over a period of time, there has been a decline in the quantity and quality of fish catch due to the deterioration of marine ecology, caused by the destruction of mangroves and industrial pollution. With the thinning of intertidal areas pagadiya fishing has been severely affected. The movement of ships on the Adani port has also made it difficult for fishermen with smaller boats to do fishing in the same area. Rising diesel costs has made it expensive for fishermen with small motorized boats to go further than 15-20 km to the sea”, the study says.

Referring to the impact on livelihood, the scholar says, “Though fish price has increased, compared to 10 years ago, income from fishing has dwindled considerably for most fishermen. Some of them struggle to survive on their meagre incomes from fishing and work unwillingly as agricultural labourers, construction workers, and casual labourers in the port to supplement family income. Due to widespread illiteracy and limited vocational skills fisherfolks are unable to take advantage of new economic opportunities.” The result is – the fishing community has been protesting against the industry through the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS).

Coming to the impact on agriculture, the scholar says, it has been “a major source of livelihood for nearly 60 per cent of the households in Jharpara.” A majority of the farmers belong to the gadhavi community. Nearly 80 per cent are small and marginal farmers. “Agriculture is rainfed although many farmers have tubewells or borewells for irrigation. The farmers in Jharpara practice mixed cropping (agriculture and horticulture). Bajara, jowar, and wheat are the main cereal crops grown primarily for personal consumption while cotton and castor are cash crops sold in the market. In addition, coconuts, chikoos, and date palms are the main income-generating horticultural crops. According to the farmers, agricultural production and income from agriculture was good ten years ago, but no longer now”, the study says.

It adds, “The farmers have reported decline in the agricultural productivity of all the crops and also the quality of horticultural crops including coconuts, chikoos, and date palms over the last five years. Over a period of time, increased salinity of water due to intensive use of groundwater and sea ingress appear to have lowered agricultural productivity of the land. In fact, agricultural land of some of the farmers has become uncultivable.”

Actually, the study points to how Jharpara was once known as a key supplier of a large quantity of chikoos to Saurashtra, and a high quality of indigenous dates to the whole of India. “The main fallout of industrialization has been damage to the horticultural crops. According to the farmers, fly ash and the chemical content from the thermal power plants situated in the adjoining areas settle on the fruit trees and affect the pollination process causing deterioration in the quantity and quality of the horticultural crops. The size of coconuts and sweetness of water have decreased, the date yield and quality has shrunk while chikoo production and quality has reduced drastically.”

“Some farmers have even cut down chikoo and date trees on their farms. The villagers complain that proper steps have not been taken by the industry to ensure that fly ash spewing out of the power plant does not pollute the air. Furthermore, the cost of agricultural production has gone up since the costs of agricultural inputs and agricultural labour too have increased. There is a shortage of agricultural labourers as some of them have shifted to work as casual labour in the port and industrial-infrastructural projects. Specifically, small and marginal farmers are worried about the sustainability of agriculture in the long run”, the study says.

As the Adani Port and SEZ led to considerable increase in the land price, many farmers sold away their land. Even as creating an asset in the form of housing and vehicles, the small and marginal farmers among them have “diversified their livelihood from agriculture to non-farm employment, mostly as casual labour as construction workers, port labour, cleaners, drivers, etc. and operating chhakada (local autorikshaws).” Only very few, mainly large farmers, “invested money towards creating new assets by purchasing cultivable agricultural land within or outside the village and vehicles (tractors, trucks, jeeps, etc.) for transport business.” A few of them used the surplus in starting new businesses as “land brokers, moneylenders, and labour contractors.”

As for animal husbandry, which was an important source of livelihood for traditional pastoralists, small and marginal farmers, and poor landless families with nearly 60 per cent the families of the village engaged in it, the study says, “In 2007, the state government diverted 1000 acres of gauchar (grazing) land of Jharpara belonging to the village panchayat to the Adani Group for SEZ.” Pointing out that the process of land transfer from the village panchayat to the state government was “not transparent”, the study says, “This ‘gift’ of gauchar land to industry has resulted in the shortage of pastures for grazing cattle for Jharpara.”

Patel explains, “Earlier, grazing in gauchar land was the main source of fodder for cattle, which was supplemented with agricultural waste by the farmers. Villagers report that livestock population of the village has gradually decreased as it is difficult for them to maintain a large number of cattle. The gauchar land that is available is not sufficient for grazing. Availability of fodder and fuel wood from the gauchar land has also decreased due to deterioration of the quality of land. Besides, traditional pastoralists like maladharis and rabaris, who pursue livestock rearing as an occupation, small and marginal farmers and landless families who heavily relied on animal husbandry to supplement their income, have been severely affected. Their vulnerability has compounded. The gauchar-affected communities have been actively protesting under the aegis of Jharpara Gauchar Samiti against the handover of the 1,000 acres of their gaucharr land for SEZ.”

As for new economic opportunities, the study says, these are availed only to “enterprising farmers”. As for the others, given the low level of education, their “employment opportunities are limited to contractual and casual jobs as cleaners, labourers, construction workers, etc.” Patel adds, “Gradually, men and women from the families of agricultural labourers have shifted from agricultural labour to non-farm casual labour related to port/industry operations for more days of work throughout the year and better incomes. Only a few young men with higher secondary education are employed in the Adani port as computer operators and crane operators.”

Furthermore, “there are 25-30 thekedars (contractors), mostly from the gadhavi community who supply labour, material, vehicles, etc. to the industry. There is a thriving transport business in Jharpara. A large number of trucks and vehicles are owned and operated by the nouveau riche villagers for carrying material and labourers to the port and surrounding areas. Several families own and operate chhakadas.”

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