Journey through Rann... My observations...
List of activities in chronological order:
1. Journey: Ahmedabad to Kharaghoda
Breakfast in a restaurant beside NH947
2. Discussion with Agariya Salt farmers
3. Visit to SETU charitable trust-Arogya Kendra in Kharaghoda
4. Visit to salt farm in Rann of Kutchh
5. Visit to Magnesium Chloride factory nearby
Lunch in a restaurant
6. Watching SETU Charitable Trust
7. Night stay at Ganatar Gijubhai Bal Academy, HSBC campus, Patadi
8. Visit to Rann of Kutchh salt farms
9. Visit to Vachchhraj Dada Temple in Rann of Kutchh
Lunch at Agariya home at Kharaghoda
10. Home to home discussion with Agariya people
11. Return Journey: Kharaghoda to Ahmedabad
Dinner in a restaurant beside NH947
Location: Kharaghoda, District: Surendranagar
· Population: Around 11,000
· Composition and Occupation:
Ø Agariya Salt Farmers: Salt farming in Rann of Kutchh
Ø Salt traders: Buying and selling of salt, money lending to agariyas
Ø Farmers: Farming of Bajri, Jowar etc
Ø Others (Labourers, Teachers, Shopkeepers etc)
General Procedure opted by Agariya salt farmers:
Agariya Farmers work in the fields of Rann of Kutchh for around 8 months beginning from month of October until May. Rest of the months usually pass by in family functions or preparation for upcoming 8 months. Usual process includes first taking money from traders in advance. The whole process cost up to 3 lakh rupees investment. Major costs include buying crude oil barrels for pumps, taking a tractor on rent for transporting the required materials for their stay like food, water, materials for making house etc. After reaching the field, either old wells are used or new wells are made. Individual areas are known to individual farmers. Some of them practice group farming. For digging a new well, first a cylindrical well is dug down 10-15 feet. Then with help of borewell machine, a borewell pipe is installed which can go as deep as 50 feet in order to reach the water table containing brine solution. There are chances that the borewell doesn’t find water table at all and hit the rock surface beneath. In case water is found, it is taken out with help of pump and spread in salt pans and kept for evaporation for months. The residual water left called bittern is used by mineral companies to extract minerals like magnesium. After production of raw salt, it is sold to salt companies at 20-25 paise/kg. Only when revenue generated goes above investment, salt farmers gets money otherwise they go into debt.
Education of children:
There are schools present in Kharaghora, both government and private. But the children of Agariya people who have to stay in salt fields for 8 months find it difficult to attend as they usually have to travel all the way from Kutchh fields to school. It was reported that in order to overcome this, tent schools were started in this area. Presence of boarding schools also helps where a child can learn and read while staying there itself. We visited one of such school (Gantar Gijubhai Bal Academy, Patadi) which specifically intakes children of Agariya community.
Usually the Agariya people carry general medicines for fever, rashes etc along with them for their stay.
SETU Charitable Trust Tele-medicine Seva specifically works for people of Agariya community. In this system, one mobile unit along with an operating centre is present. When someone calls them at a given contact, the mobile unit reaches to the patient acting as an ambulance and provides required medication after diagnosis. The concept is of connecting the doctor practicing in cities with the rural patients by internet. Each day the mobile unit goes to a specific place known to the villagers for a fixed time. A simple form is given to the patient which includes basic information about them, along with list of diagnosis tests and list of medicines. The doctor by seeing the diagnostic tests can recommend the patient with required medications along with required medicines. The medicines are provided from the same unit free of cost. The whole system works very fine and can become a model for remote areas because of its simplicity and reach.
Regarding toxic gases:
We came to know that cases of deaths from toxic gases (H2S, CO) while extracting brine water from well began from the use of borewell pumps. Previously, when pumps were not used (and water table was up enough to extract brine water simply by digging a well), there was no scope for accumulation of such gases. But now since borewell pumps are covered from above in order to save it in monsoon season, the gases get accumulated and when the cover is removed inside the dug well, the amount of gas is enough to kill a person or two.
The gases come out with more pressure in the afternoon when the temperature is maximum.
I) Mud was ploughed with tractors around the salt pans so that dust and dirt can be prevented from entering inside.
II) Some crystals obtained from the wells were used by the Agariyans as traditional medications for menstruation pain. They were burned, made into powder and mixed with water and then filtered out.
III) When Hindustan Salt Limited was operating in that area, the agariyans used to get proper housing, medical and other facilities. With the increment of privatization in this sector, their exploitation increased.
IV) Land is measured in terms of ‘pata’ unit.
V) Solar pumps were reported to be installed in many of the salt fields with help of government subsidy. It costs around 2.5 lakh rupees in which 50,000 was to be paid by the salt farmer.