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Home > News > PTI

Wild ass robs agarias' livelihood

Parag Dave in Ahmedabad | February 15, 2007 10:40 IST

Around 40,000 salt pan workers, harnessing salt in the Little Rann of Kutch area are fighting a battle of survival in the land where Mahatma Gandhi had launched his salt movement, as they have been asked not to enter the area that has been declared as wild ass sanctuary.

The recent orders of the state forest department could ruin the economy of 107 villages which surround the Little Rann of Kutch and is entirely dependent on the salt. The Little Rann has been a traditional salt producing area as it produces 21 per cent of total salt production of India.

State forest officials have sent notices to most of the salt workers in November 2006, directing them to stop their traditional vocation and vacate the sanctuary area or face three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 25,000.

The Little Rann, which has become a bone of contention between humans and animal, was declared a wild ass sanctuary in 1978 and has a population of 3,860 wild ass, which are endangered species.

The salt pan workers, known as 'agarias,' have demanded that they be allowed to continue with their traditional occupation which their forefathers have been doing for the last 600 years.

Ambubhai Patel of Kharaghoda town of Surendranagar district, who is an agaria, said they and the wild ass have been living in harmony with each other for the last many centuries.

"The agarias are not a threat to the wild life as they are vegetarians. The wild ass poses no threat either to the agaria or their salt. So, there is no question of the community killing or harassing the wild animals," Amubhai added.

It is due to the agarias that the wild ass population has survived in Little Rann of Kutch, he said, adding that the agarias spend eight months every year inside the marshy desert area where conditions are very hostile.

"We have no industry here and agriculture is also not possible in the desert area. If our traditional occupation is taken away, then we will die of hunger," he said.

Another agaria, Narabhai Gogabhai, said they do not know any thing than producing salt.

"The state government should allow us to continue with our work in the salt pan or else they should rehabilitate us and provide employment opportunity," he added.

The agaria community comprises of mostly uneducated and poor families. They have got united under the banner of Agariya Hitrakshak Sangh. Harinesh Pandya of the Sangh said the state forest department is not interested in settling the issue of salt pan workers and thinks that wild ass will be protected by removing them from the sanctuary area.

"If the agarias are removed from the desert area, then they would be left jobless," Pandya added.

However, forest department officials argue that presence of the agarias in the restricted sanctuary area creates problem in conservation of wild ass as they are not able to distinguish between wild ass hunters who pose as agaria.

"We have sent them the notices recently, barring them to enter the sanctuary area as their entry in the sanctuary has proved to be dangerous for the wild ass," an official of state forest department from Dhanghadra town said.



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