Boon for shrimp cultivators, bane for the farmers

Salinity destroying land fertility in Bagerhat

Morshed Ali Khan and Abul Kalam Azad

Hundreds of farmers at Bara Bashbaria village under Daama union in Bagerhat Sadar fear loss of cultivable lands to rich and influential shrimp cultivators.

The farmers say that if the lands belonging to landowners are turned into shrimp producing compartments salinity would permanently destroy their fertility.

At Bara Bashbaria, farmers alleged the local Union Parishad Chairman, Atahar Tarafdar, has forbidden them from "entering" into more than 100 acres of agricultural land within the flood protection embankment. The farmers said they have been growing IRRI and Aman crops in the area for generations.

The embankment was built to prevent entry of saline water of Daratana river into the highly fertile lands which yield over 80 maunds of IRRI paddy per acre on an average, they said.

Armed men of the chairman guard the area even at night to prevent farmers from going to the fields, villagers alleged.

They said, for the last two months, Atahar is contemplating opening the sluice gate to let saline water inside the area. As per law, the sluice gate can not be opened till the water of the river turns sweet in the Bangla month of Ashar when flooding occurs.

The villagers showed several small dykes and temporary shades built by the chairman and his men on the lands belonging to crop-sharing farmers.

Abdul Hamid Hawladar, aged about 50, has been growing paddy in the area all his life. He said, besides growing paddy, they could produce galda or lobsters, a sweet water fish. But since shrimp cultivation is a lucrative business, thousands of acres of agricultural land have been destroyed in Bagerhat area, he said.

"We are growing paddy for generations. We do not want to go into business, which will ruin our land", said Hamid adding that most of his fellow farmers oppose the idea of shrimp cultivation.

Another farmer, Ali Hossain, said they are in extreme fear because nobody in the area has the "audacity to oppose the local chairman".

Atahar was not available at his house. Villagers said Atahar always moves with his licensed hunting gun. Later, when these correspondents contacted Atahar on mobile phone, he denied all the allegations. Asked why he built the small dykes and temporary sheds, he said he was trying to catch lobsters which escaped from his pond.

"Why should I antagonise the people who elected me? I always want to help people of my area. I can assure you that the farmers can start their farming activities anytime they want," Atahar said.

At Bagerhat, Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Rabiul Islam said the government has formed a district level Shrimp Cultivation Management Committee but most shrimp cultivators do not bother to seek permission while turning their lands into shrimp cultivation compartments. The committee comprises different departments including the local Department of Environment, he said.

He said he was not aware of the problem at Bara Bashbaria. But whenever someone wants to convert his land into a shrimp cultivation compartment, 80 per cent of the villagers must agree to it, he said.

"Shrimp cultivation has become so popular over the years that even very small land owners have converted their agricultural lands into compartments. As a result, fertility of land has drastically fallen in the area", the DC admitted.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, June 23, 2001


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