Public hearing Aquaculture Impacts on Dalit Women’s Livelihood

6 – H, Anderson Road, Ayanavaram,
Chennai – 600 023.
Ph: 00 44 26749860

Public hearing
Aquaculture Impacts on Dalit Women’s Livelihood

Kolathur was a predominantly Dalit village with a population of more than 4000 people, most of whom were sharecroppers with no land tenancy with their names, that is, no rights over the productive resources in their upkeep. In order to make livings, most of adult women collect fish and shrimp from the Kazhuvili or backwaters and earn approx. Rs. 100 per day for the work. Having served upper-caste landlords for over four generations, the Dalit villagers have kept under medieval conditions- even being located at not so far from the atomic power station in Tamil Nadu, they don’t have no electricity at home.

Since 2005, a shrimp farm operated by F. Bartholomeo, allegedly a politically well-connected Chennai businessman, has been discharging toxic effluents from the aquaculture ponds spread over 2.5 acres of agricultural lands. It is esmimated that the businessman has acquired over 10 acres of land. As being in exposure to the effluent-contaminated backwaters, Dalit fisher-women complained of serious skin disorders and dimming of vision. Dalit women catch shrimp by stooping in water and running their hands through the riverbed.

The complaints of skin and eye disorders are consistent with what we know of the common chemicals used and released from Indian aquaculture ponds. According to Dr. Romeo Quijano from the Philippines, Professor of a medical school, and Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde from Chennai, an organizer of community based health advocacy programme, some sorts of chemicals, e.g. Malachite Green, which are used freely in Indian aquaculture, are now banned in other countries in light of their carcinogenic effects.

The aqua farm, which employs intensive aquaculture techniques, violates the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991, on several counts. The farm is located in an area reclaimed from the backwaters. Groundwater is abstracted through bore wells within the CRZ, and untreated effluents are transported through the CRZ. The effluents as a result are dumped in the backwaters. At the time of visit, the international consultation team confirmed villager’s complaints on the seepage of bright yellow-coloured effluents from the aqua ponds. Villagers also reported that cattle found grazing anywhere near the aqua farm were killed by the aqua farm workers in an attempt to intimidate the villagers.

The loss of fishing and agricultural livelihoods, which was derived from the existence of aqua farm, has damaged household economies of local villagers. Increased medical costs for treatment of pollution-induced illnesses as well as the legal costs for handling the numerous false cases against villagers by the police have impoverished the village. The District Administration and the police have dealt with villagers claims in a deplorable and discriminatory manner. They do not conduct investigation on the details of the complaints of the villagers whilst they have harassed to suppress the local struggle. Villagers complained that police activities on the village were accompanied by brutal lathi charges and the use of derogatory language.

If observing the abysmal condition of the local villagers and the violent handling of the Kolathur struggle, it is obvious that there is “environmental racism”, which is constructed not only with historical oppression as being Dalit in rural backwater area, but also with the lack of awareness of social vulnerability in policy implementation on environment and economy- which was led with the collusion (or, rather, corruption) between Local District Administration and the Shrimp farm.

Chinna Aqua Farm should be closed immediately and the pollution of the backwaters must be stopped.
Complaints of police brutalities, including their racially abusive behaviour should be investigated officially. Complains against the authority should be put on the formal procedure of investigation and prosecution including by way of ordering compensation for victims of such brutality.
The State government should, with the polluter’s cost, facilitate villagers to conduct a community-wide health and environment surveys.
The State government must order the Farm owner to compensate villagers for lost livelihoods.
The State authority should target Kolathur villagers as a priority for distribution of land under the 2-acre scheme of the Government.

The Public Hearing will be held at,

Kollathur Village, ECR Road, Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu.
Date: 11.00 a.m - 5.00 p.m on December 20th , 2008.

Press Conference organized at 4.00 p.m. of the same day

Cultural Programs will be performed in the public hearing as well.

As a friend who works for social justice in the world, we invite you to join the Public Hearing. Kindly take part in the event and show your solidarity.

Thanking you,

With warm regards,