In time, a thriving pisciculture led to rural prosperity.
Adversity was converted into opportunity, and the wasted
drain water became a source of wealth creation. Now, over
600,000 tons of fish are produced in that area valued at
Rs. 2000 crore, supplying food to the rest of India. The
sale of fish from Kolleru never exceeded 15,000 tons earlier.
In this densely populated area, people's livelihoods, incomes,
health, economy, and state revenues - all improved dramatically.
high growth led to some aberrations. At times, with the
connivance of officials, farmers encroached upon drains,
and obstructed flood flow, leading to inundation. Several
big farmers and entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in pisciculture,
and started taking large tracks on lease, paying annual
rental of Rs. 20,000 per acre typically. There are vague
complaints of possible ecological impact of pisciculture.
All these have practical answers: encroachment should be
evicted from drains, and the channels cleared of silt and
weed; small farmers should be strengthened, and big farmers
should be evicted from government lands traditionally cultivated
by local farmers, and now leased out; industrial and municipal
pollution in the upper reaches should be stopped; and pisciculture
practices should be improved reducing dependence on fertilizers.
of such rational policies, the government, which had earlier
actively encouraged pisciculture, now decided to throw the
baby with the bath water. Following years of uninformed
media campaign, the state, without genuine consultation
with the local people, declared an area of 300 sq. km as
a wild life reserve, on the pretext that migratory birds
including Siberian cranes needed untouched wetland. Fish
and birds together actually form a mutually beneficial relationship:
bird droppings make natural fish feed; and fish plankton
and the resultant ecosystem feed birds. Both growth and
nature could be sustained by wise policies. Instead the
misplaced policy has the effect of snatching poverty from
the jaws of prosperity!
35,000 acres of fertile land, including about 10,000 acres
of land granted to the local dalits and backward classes
is now part of the wildlife reserve. In this area alone,
the annual fish production is about Rs. 500 crores. The
livelihoods of over 100,000 people in the area are now jeopardized.
All this, without any land acquisition or payment of compensation!
A fair compensation would be of the order of Rs. 5000 -
7000 crores. All rights of farmers over their own lands
are practically extinguished and they are directed to resort
to 'traditional fishing', and agriculture without any chemicals.
Fish tanks are destroyed in great haste. Drains are left
unattended, increasing chances of inundation in upper reaches.
Pollution from industry and municipalities is not stopped.
But agriculture and pisciculture are blamed for ecological
damage. If agriculture is unacceptable on grounds of pollution,
there is farming and pisciculture in 12,00,000 acres in
the upper reaches, and the waste water drains into Kolleru.
It is absurd to think of curtailing agriculture in this
rich rice and fish bowl with over 3 million population!
And if such 'pollution' is harmful, then the wild life reserve
in the lower reaches has no meaning.
folly is now compounded by institutional mistrust and logjam.
Under the law, the state government can declare an area
as a wild life reserve. Once such notification is issued,
all authority vests in the Union, and the State cannot correct
its follies. Even the Union executive has no real power,
as the wild life board and its standing committee take over.
Even they cannot correct the mistakes, as the Supreme Court
decided that all proposals for changes even if approved
by the State, Union and the wild life board, should be cleared
by it. The Court itself created sixteen empowered committees
with extraordinary executive powers. In the Kolleru case,
a few well-meaning activists went to court, and obtained
orders for demolition of fish tanks even before land is
acquired. Neither compensation for lands, nor a comprehensive
package of rehabilitation entered the picture. Agriculture
is now criminalized, as par with smuggling or counterfeit
currency. Now, even as politicians slowly recognize their
folly, they are helpless to correct the mistakes. A system
of alibis is created with everyone claiming helplessness.
When the region is finally devasted economically without
commensurate benefits to society, no one can be held accountable.
is a classic case of chopping off the head for a simple
headache. Can we disentangle the mess we created and promote
rational policies and sustainable growth? It will take years
of dedicated efforts, wisdom and restraint from all players
before some sanity is restored to our polity. Meanwhile,
will somebody, anybody the State, Union, the Courts - understand
the pain, anguish and needless suffering inflicted on the
helpless population of Kolleru and protect their rights
and livelihoods? Or will we add to the growing rural alienation,
unrest, and resort to violence, which have bedeviled our