Vol. XLI No. 23 June 04, 2017

Green Fields Turned into Aqua Tanks - Villages in the Grip of Pollution

P Madhu

THE aqua sector in Andhra Pradesh is benefitting a handful of people at the expense of vast sections of common people. Commoners are suffering immensely. Hundreds of villages are reeling under chaotic conditions such as lack of drinking water, onset of skin diseases, lung diseases, etc. Beginning 1992, aquaculture has been spreading its tentacles and its sweep is ever expanding.

Our country is exporting seafood to about 100 countries. The export volume is about 4.35 lakh tonnes, worth around Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 crore. The share of Andhra Pradesh stood at 3.36 lakh tonnes. The state government has decided to give further impetus to enhance the state’s share in the days to come. The chief minister declared at a collectors’ conference that Gajuwaka mandal stood number one and Nandiwada mandal number two in terms of per capita income. The lion’s share of the people’s income in Nandiwada mandal comes from aquaculture. The state government is taking more measures to encourage aquaculture in a big way.


Growing Aqua Farming, Rise in People’s Sufferings

The government is encouraging aqua farming and expansion of prawn ponds despite knowing that it severely impacts the environment. It is in a tearing hurry to benefit a few while ignoring the deleterious impact of the aqua sector on employment, society. It is assessed that in 8 to 10 lakh acres, fish and prawn ponds were established. In half of these fields, unauthorised aqua farming is continuing. For ponds in 1,79,426 acres, permissions are yet to be given, as per the details mentioned in the recent collector’s conference. Out of which, 74,431 acres are assigned lands. As agriculture became uneconomical, poor and middle peasants, agriculture workers are migrating. Schools in villages are being closed in the absence of students. Owing to storage of salt water in prawn tanks and utilisation of chemicals, crops in adjacent fields are getting affected. Even cattle and birds are being badly impacted. Effluent from aqua ponds is pouring into drinking water tanks. People are being forced to buy water cans due to non-availability of drinking water. By that way, water plant managements are minting profit.


Restrictions in Foreign countries, Incentives in AP

As the production of prawns is laden with pollution, many governments in the world have imposed restrictions on aquaculture and some governments have banned it. In countries such as the USA, Thailand, Dubai, Kuwait, South Africa and Japan, severe restrictions have been imposed on the usage of feed, chemicals, anti-biotics during the process. Lab tests are also being conducted on the product as well as on the residuary. In the background of neo-liberal economic reforms, aquaculture came into our country during 90’s. At that time, it was allowed with a lot of conditions. Aquaculture was encouraged by the ruling classes ignoring agriculture as it fetches huge profits. Slowly, the acts which are restrictive to aquaculture have been diluted. There are conditions such as allowing aqua farming only in coastal areas, prohibiting lifting of saline water from ground, prohibiting release of aqua ponds water into fields. It was also stipulated that effluent should be channelised through effluent treatment system to minimise the deleterious impact of used water out of aqua pond on crop, cattle and fish. The state government had explicitly mentioned about all these measures in its orders. Despite all these, the TDP government had given permissions for aqua farming ruthlessly unmindful of the acts and the government orders. This is being done in the garb of boosting the per capita income. The fish ponds established earlier didn’t do as much damage as is being done by prawn ponds now.


Growth Rate

The government is promoting aquaculture as a priority sector in the guise of achieving double digit growth. In 2015-16 AP budget, Rs 60 crore was allocated to the fisheries department. Whereas in 2016-17, Rs 339 crore was allocated. There is a proposal to give 24-hour power to the aqua industry instead of seven hours as is being given now like agriculture. Power tariff for the aqua sector in 2015-16 was Rs 4.63 per unit. In 2016-17, it has been reduced to Rs 3.75 and Rs. 3.15 has been proposed for the ensuing year. Fifty per cent subsidy has also been declared for aerators. Further subsidies are also being given for seed and feed.


Loss of Employment to Dalits

Wherever aqua farming has taken place, it is the dalits who bore the brunt of it. Many lost their livelihood. Some of the dalits and backward sections have migrated to faraway places. In all mandals, the rate of population has been growing. However, in Nandivada mandal where this aqua farming has been rampant, the population has come down. There used to be two mandal parishad territorial constituencies (MPTCs) in Ilaparru village 10 years ago. Now it has come down to one. The main reason for this is the migration of landless dalits from the village. Small and marginal farmers have leased their fields and left the villages. Owing to the indiscriminate aquaculture, small peasants have lost their lands, tenant farmers, agricultural workers and fisheries workers have lost their employment.


Aqua Mega Food Park and People’s Resistance

A mega food park is under construction at Tundurru village, taking advantage of growing aqua farming. Illegal permissions have been obtained to convert agricultural lands to non-agricultural lands and forged signatures of farmers have been utilised for this. The management obtained permission to establish the aqua food park by creating false records. There was a condition that this type of processing plants have to be established 1 km away from the village. However, the plant was established within 20 metres from the border of the village. Having gauged the impact of pollution to fields and drain due to aquaculture, the farmers and agricultural workers have resolutely opposed the construction of the mega food park. People have directly participated in protest actions opposing the park. Meetings and padayatras have been conducted in neighbouring villages and mandals. People in a big way have participated in 30 to 40 modes of protest against the construction of the park.

The resistance movements and protests have hampered the expansion of aqua ponds. In Krishna district, officially 1.41 lakh acres, unofficially 1.01 lakh acres, in West Godavari officially 78,360 acres, unofficially 58,876 acres, in East Godavari officially 37,000 acres, unofficially 52,000 acres aqua farming is taking place. Various sections of people who were affected due to aquaculture -- viz., crops have been hit, pollution of drinking water, fisheries products have been impacted, removal of tenant farmers, and loss of employment -- have been protesting against the mega food park. In Bhimavaram, West Godavari district, Ganapavaram, Undi and other 20 villages have been voluntarily opposing the construction of food park. In East Godavari district also, similar protests are taking place in 18 villages. In Nandivada mandal, near Gudivada, Krishna district people have been raising various demands and objections against this park. Kisan sabha, agricultural workers union, KVPS have lent their support to the struggles of the people in various forms.

In East Godavari district, Tandavapalli of Konaseema, Vannechintalapudi, people have been resisting against opening of new prawn ponds and there were periodical protests against all the activities. The farmers in Tandavapalli and Vanne Chintalapudi have gone to court. The high court responded in a positive manner and directed: 1. to pay compensation to the farmers who lost their crop; 2. to initiate action against officials who gave sanction for establishing new ponds, within a week; 3. to remove electricity to the newly constructed ponds, to do away with bores. Actions have been initiated by the collector on the direction of the high court in two villages removing the ponds. The fisheries development officer was suspended and the tahasildar was transferred. In all these agitations, people tremendously responded cutting across their political affiliations.

There were continuous agitations by the dalits in Bhimavaram, in Ilaparru where the field cooperative society lands, assigned lands, government lands are under illegal occupation by the aqua businessmen, in Gudivada and Kaikaluru assembly constituencies. Even the officials have already declared that around 25,000 to 30,000 acres of land is in illegal occupation. The district collector and RDO declared that the lands of fields cooperative society belong to dalits only. This gave a fillip to the movement. Wherever there were protests against aqua farming, the government tried to crush the agitation by applying brute force. Cases were booked against the agitators and many were imprisoned. Despite all these repressive measures, protests have been growing and expanding.


Struggle is the Way Out

Mainstream papers have also covered the woes of farmers and people. Apart from the Left parties, influential social segments are also opposing the aqua farming. Still, the ruling TDP and opposition YSR Congress Party are not opposing the aqua farming. The main reason for this is that leaders of both these parties are vying, directly and indirectly, to pocket largesse out of aqua farming. Protests and people’s resistance can only halt this man-made disaster.