Mundra SEZ spells displacement for fisherfolk

By Benjamin Mackinnon
Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

Mundra SEZ spells displacement for fisherfolk

Livelihoods of fisherfolk is at stake as the Mundra special economic zone (sez) on the northern shore of the Gulf of Kutch gets underway. Potentially the largest sez in the country, it covers 28 km of coastline and is spread across 13,000 hectares (ha).

While the Adani Group, the promoters, claims the Mundra sez is the first to have both seaport and airport within it and offers substantial employment opportunities, ngos feel the sez will cause displacement and destroy livelihoods. This aside, there are other serious concerns such as the destruction of mangrove forests, according to environmentalists.
Loss of livelihood There are seven fishing settlements along the coastal fringe (see map Threatened settlements).Tattered hessian sacks stitched together and wrapped around wooden post frames form simple dwellings that are home to the fisherfolk for 10 months of the year (the settlements are abandoned from June 10 to August 15 on account of the monsoon fishing ban).

Fisherfolk in these settlements practise two forms of fishing, lagadia and pagadia (see box Artisinal fishing techniques). Their settlements, which lack even basic infrastructure, are not recognised by authorities. According to the Gujarat fisheries department census (1997-98), these fishing settlements have a population of 3,979, representing 705 households. Because neither the government nor Adani recognises the presence of these settlements, the fisherfolk fear they will be evicted.

Not all fisherfolk, however, live along the coastline. There are around 10 villages along the perimeter of the sez from where fisherfolk commute daily, by foot or by cycle, to practise pagadia. Those in the Shekhadiya village are outraged because an airstrip has been constructed across their route to the sea.

This defies a clause made by the district collectorate that existing routes would be respected. But the Adanis insist they were not aware of the route. The website of the Mundra sez reads "This airport has 1,900 metres long airstrip and can handle executive jets with ease." An ngo supporting the fisherfolk's cause had appealed to government authorities regarding the issue two years ago and there has been a series of meetings with the local mamlatdar (revenue official) and the Adanis.

On February 14, 2007, five members of the community filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. About the same time, around 50 villagers were protesting outside the district collectorate office in Mundra.

Although Adani has provided an alternative access around the airstrip, extending the route by about 1 km, the fisherfolk are not content.

They are concerned that the airstrip may be extended, entirely blocking their access. They are demanding a guaranteed route.
More than the regular debate The government sees the issue not just as a development versus displacement debate. They argue that the sez will bring about a positive transformation for the local communities. D Rajagopalan, principal secretary for industries and mines in Gujarat, says agricultural land in the state is limited because of scanty rainfall.

"The land quality is very poor and suitable to be diverted for industrialisation. In places where the sez developers acquire fertile arable land, farmers, aware of the value of their cash crops, receive the correct market price," says Rajagopalan.Down to Earth He also feels that people are grateful for the opportunity to learn new skills to work in industry.

Kaushal Verma, deputy general manager, corporate communications, Adani, believes the sez will contribute positively to the region's development. "The company is setting up an institute of technology to train local people and are actively encouraging female education. The intention is to develop a broad base of local skilled labour. A hundred or so toilets have been installed in villages and a medical team is dispatched daily from the new Apollo hospital," says Verma.

But villagers told Down To Earth that they have had little contact with the developers and do not believe that medical treatment will be provided. Besides, even if it is given, they would not be able to afford the services. They are not particularly excited by the prospect of working as labourers for wages of Rs 65-100 per day either.

"We are free and in charge of our own livelihoods. We know only fishing. If we work in a factory we will be slaves to the Adanis," says Mamud Jafar Jam, a fisherman.

While Ashwin Zinzuvadia, a local journalist, says the port gives employment to labour from other states, Verma puts the blame on the "mentality of the people who by and large refuse to work as labourers".

In attempting to defend their livelihoods, fisherfolk would benefit from accurate data on the economics of their business. There have been no official studies in the Mundra district. A phd student studying the coast's artisanal fisherfolk says a family practising both lagadia and pagadia could expect to earn around Rs 175,000 annually, which is equal to Rs 500 a day.

The Gujarat fisheries department focuses on industrial fisheries characterised by high-volume/low-value catches. But the best option for sustainable fisheries might be artisanal fishing on a low-volume/high-value basis. A study published in Samudra, a journal published by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, says artisanal fishing conducted close to the coast allows products to be kept chilled or alive with minimal investment. Small catches make for improved handling which preserves the value of the product and the gear used to capture fish often results in them being caught in a good condition. For example, in Mauritania, octopuses caught by artisanal fishers is sold for us$200 more than the same product caught by freezer trawlers, says the paper.

Fisherfolk aside, even pastoralists' land is at stake. The long history of industrialisation in Gujarat and the conversion of 'common' land for other purposes caused many pastoralists to lose the grazing land they depended upon. In 1973, the government passed an order allocating 16 ha of gauchar (grazing) land per 100 animals per village and prohibited the selling of such land for any other purpose. But nine villages have lost their gauchar land to the Mundra sez.

People say that around 570 ha of mangroves have been cleared for the sez. And this may have significant environmental and economic implications. But the Adanis claim they are replanting 760 ha of mangroves elsewhere. The coastline, however, is not immune to natural disasters. In 1945, the second largest tsunami recorded hit Mundra and in 1998, a 200km/h cyclone with 7.5 metre high tidal waves struck the neighbouring port at Kandla. It resulted in export losses of us$190 million and property damage of us$550 million. But Mundra remained unscathed due to mangroves, the natural barriers that dissipated the incoming wave energy, says Zinzuvadia.Down to EarthDegradation of mangroves, which shelter juvenile fish and microorganisms that form the basis of the food chain, means a reduction in fish-catch. There is reportedly a 30 per cent reduction in the fish catch already. Dredging of shipping channels to allow access to cargo vessels with a draught of up to 17.5 metres destroys the benthic environment that many commercial fish species depend upon. Increased shipping traffic destroys fishing nets as well. In January this year, media reported that eight fishing nets were destroyed within a month, which caused a loss of us $4,000.

This year, around 84 million tonnes of crude oil is expected to enter the Gulf of Kutch and the Mundra port has plans to develop berths for handling speciality chemicals. Deep within the gulf, the waters around the Mundra port experience a slow rate of water recycling. Any pollution leak from industry would take a long time to be flushed out stagnating, suffocating and killing the marine life, says Sandeep Virmani of the Forum for Planned Industrialisation (fpi) of Kutch.

Not just that, a rich horticultural belt stretches along and extends beyond the sez. People fear that the industries will deplete local aquifers that sustain the double-cropped agricultural system.

Land use
fpi has developed a land use plan for Gujarat which recognises that traditional economies are dependent on natural resources. It has identified 13 economic sectors and proposes means for facilitating industrial development without hindering existing livelihoods.

"According to the land use plan, the Mundra sez should have been located further west in Abdasa near Pingleshwar. This stretch of coast does not have any mangroves and there is no horticultural belt either. Close to the open ocean, any pollution leaks would be quickly flushed out and the waters are much deeper, meaning no dredging would be required," says Virmani.

Virmani is of the opinion that a more holistic approach is necessary while selecting the site for an sez. "Leaving the developer to select such land is not conducive to achieving the best for everyone and often results in conflicts," he adds.

Everyone agrees that a more transparent approach is required. "Greater communication is necessary between the developers, the government and affected communities so that potential issues are understood, discussed in their infancy and mitigated as well. People's livelihoods are sustainable but they need assistance to improve their settlements' infrastructure," says Ayan Deb of care International.

If the government learns some lessons from this misadventure, it will hopefully consider the shortcomings of its policy on sezs and take corrective measures.

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