Chilka Movement Case Study in India.


The Chilka Movement highlighted an example of people’s struggle on vital issues of common concern, especially with respect to their environment. In early 1990’s, Chilka bachao movement was started by fishermen living around Chilka Lake in Orissa, who resisted the implementation of Integrated Shrimp Farm Project (ISFP) in their area. They saw this project as a threat to their livelihood.

To highlight its brief history, the Chilka Lake was in the hands of princely states, of Parikuda and Khalikata during British rule. In 1920s, local fishermen paid royalty to the king for access to this lake.

Later, to protect the interests of local fishermen and prevent outside encroachment, a local cooperative society was formed with 24 members. In 1953 after princely states were abolished, the Government of Orissa took over.

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Under the state rule, fisheries were leased to fishermen through open auction. Then in 1959, the Central Cooperative Marketing S6ciety was formed that leased fisheries from the government and subleased them to primary fishermen cooperative groups.

The system guarded the fishing rights of local fishermen. The Chilka Reorganization Scheme differentiated between fishermen and non-fishermen, clearly.

In 1991, in a significant move, the state government ordered that Chilka fisheries be divided into two types capture and culture.

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Capture rights were given to fishermen and culturing rights were meant for non-fishermen and other villagers not members of the primary cooperative groups.

As the government’s order did not provide clear guidelines for operation of capture and culture, the local administrator used his discretionary power to distinguish it.

Thus, this approach further led to confusion in the fishing communities. Many primary societies bypassed central society and marketed directly through commission agents, defeating the purpose of the cooperative.

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For many years, the Chilka lake witnessed subletting of leased out fisheries of central and primary societies and illegal encroachment, leading to many local fishermen losing their livelihoods.

Large-scale business of prawn culture also contributed to this trend, besides threatening the fragile eco-system of the lake. Further more, the state government made an agreement with Tata Iron & Steel Company (TISCO) for a joint-prawn culture project in the land around Chilka Lake. This agitated the local people even more.

As the dissenting voices grew along with the spread of the plight of local fishermen, the whole issue began gaining visibility. Informal groups of students from Utkal University in Bhubaneshwar began an intense awareness exercise for villagers on the project’s environmental impact and ill-effects.

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This also highlighted to the locals the injustice that had beeri carried on them by the state.

In 1991, a forum namely the Chilka Suraksha Parishad (CSP) was formed for gathering public opinion and debate on the issue of the state’s big prawn culture project.

The student groups also began to believe that local organizations could play an important role against the project.

They decided to involve Chilka Matsyajibi Mahasangha (CMM) that comprised of 122 revenue villages in Chilka working to protect fisher men’s interests. Later in 1992, the Chilka Bachao Andolan  began as an extension of CMM.

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This got the support of several civil society organizations that together highlighted the project’s threats to the environment, forcing the state government to assess its environmental impact.

Besides this, the efforts also highlighted the issue further and demanded that the Chilka. Lake be declared an endangered wetland.

It is interesting to note here that the main focus of the movement was not really against the Tata Project but rather against the misuse and ill development of a vulnerable geographical area.

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The movement sharply criticized the flawed policies of the government towards the fragile lake and its surrounding people. Certain concerns that related to governance emerged from this movement were:

  • To whom does the Chilka Lake belong? its people or the state?
  • What happens to the livelihoods of local fishermen if big corporates enter the fisheries business in Chilka Lake?
  • What should be the state’s priority in ensuring the livelihoods of poor fishermen?

The issues raised by the movement also related to the governance aspect as the government was forced to think its priorities while planning and executing developmental projects that directly affected the poor.

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Besides, it also highlighted the flaws in administrative decision-making and execution. And, of course, the actual relationship between the state and its poor also came into limelight.

In the end, the government was forced to accept that it must correct its decision-making processes with sensitivity towards its poor and disadvantaged people.

To sum up, this case also shows that through collective actions by members of the society, state Scan be pressurized to sit up and take note of its decision-making mistakes and take remedial action.

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