A Toolkit Orientation Programme on Rethinking Rights, Justice, and Development

Section 2: Programme Methodology
2.5.1   Chilika Bachao Andolan (Save the Chilika Movement)

  An Illustrative Case Study for Teaching

Ranjita Mohanty, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), New Delhi1

This study was undertaken as a part of the comparative global research project on civil society and governance, co-ordinated by the IDS at the Sussex University and funded by the Ford Foundation. In India, PRIA coordinated the study. The study seeks to explore the interface between civil society and governance with an aim to understand the role and contribution of civil society towards the promotion of good governance in India. In this case study I have followed the broad parameters set by the project co-ordinators at IDS and our own conceptualisations and the framework we developed at PRIA. Not withstanding the parameters given by the IDS, since the study demanded that we look at civil society, governance, and their interface in the specific Indian context, it led to challenging some of the dominant conceptualisations, which permeates this understanding particularly in the West.

Chilika Bachao Andolan (Save the Chilika Movement) was a movement by the people, mostly fishermen, who posed a successful resistance in the early 90's to the Integrated Shrimp Farm Project (ISFP) - a joint venture agreed upon by the Tata Iron and Steel Company and Government of Orissa for intensive prawn cultivation and export. The project was a direct threat to the livelihood of fishing communities living around the lake. The fishermen were supported in their struggle by the non-fishermen (mostly farmers but some of them also engaged in fishing), students, intellectuals, and human rights activists. The lake, an otherwise quiet scenic spot, was stirred by voices of resistance opposing the Tata business house, the government, and the developmental idiom, which gives priority to the commercial use of the resources over their local subsistence use. The movement was episodic in nature and uneven in speed. There were different streams of thought and action among, which it was not always possible to achieve synchronisation. Yet all these separate formations together gave the resistance the form of a movement. Despite the internal conflicts and contestations among the people and the leaders, the worth of the resistance lies in raising some critical governance issues pertaining to policy formulation, resource use and control, socio- economic equity not only with regard to the specific instance, but with regard to the broader question concerning the prevalent paradigm of development, as well, and more importantly in pointing out the way the Indian state relates to ordinary people and the way ordinary people would like to refashion this relationship. 

The relationship between civil society and good governance rests on the assumption that a vibrant civil society enhances the quality of governance. There is no denying of the fact that collective initiatives in many ways restrain and reform the state and in that sense indeed contribute towards good governance. Nonetheless, the exploration of the interface between civil society and governance reveals in more than one way the tensions,, which underlie this interface. Thus while the efficacy of collective action would lead to the conclusion that people are capable of interrogating the state and conceptualising a good life and a good society, the conflict of interest in civil society and the appropriation of the benefits by the dominant and powerful sections would suggest that this emancipatory version of civil society and an uncritical faith on it need to be questioned.  That is civil society needs to look both back and forth it needs to question the state when the state becomes overbearing and at the same time it needs to question the power equations within its own sphere. As Allen Touraine says social space is both the locus and target of contemporary movements (Touraine 1983). The agenda of good governance therefore, not only includes the democratisation of the state, it must involve the democratisation of society, as well. How effectively actors in civil society perform this dual, albeit interrelated roles, and what constraints their action, is the subject of this case study. 

The wide popularity, rather it would not be inappropriate to say the celebratory status civil society has received within the last two decades is due to the democracy wave, which swept through the erstwhile communist countries in Eastern Europe and authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Africa.  It is now too well known that it began in 1989 with the fall of Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet block, and the wave moved further with the challenge posed to the military regimes in Argentina, Chile and the hegemonic apartheid and single party rulers in Africa. The people languishing without civil rights and rule of law under authoritarian hegemonic regimes could come together to challenge the state and overthrow it, thus supporting through their action the notions of efficacy of collective strength in curbing state power. Whether this triumph of civil society, which has generated so much euphoria among a wide variety of actors, does really make civil society that celebratory and emancipatory is open to debate because this resurgence in civil society is closely tied up with the march of free market and the actors in civil society, as experience of East European countries show, soon after the overthrow of the hegemonic state, fall victims to political bureaucracy and capitalist elites. However, few would disagree, with the fact that these contemporary civil society assertions prove the strength and determination of ordinary men and women and their collectives to challenge the authoritarian states and thereby testify that people are not only capable of defining their vision of good society and polity; they can also organise themselves to demand for rights and freedom necessary to actualise this vision.
It is not the intention of this paper to go into the conceptual history of civil society or the contemporary conceptualisations in the growing literature on civil society. The aim is to tease out the unique thread, which makes civil society a distinct concept worth exploring, and, which lends the concept an air to attract a wide variety of people who critically or uncritically subscribe to it.  Except perhaps for Gramsci in whose writing we find civil society as a site for the perpetuation of the hegemony of the state, the conceptualisations on civil society make it an independent, non-political realm between family and state2 or a third sphere different from the state and the market3. Conceptualisations like this fill the space of civil society with a variety of actors- movements, trade unions, NGOs, non-profit organisations. These collectives may counter pose to the state to curb its power, or may collaborate with the state to enhance its performance, and in that process reform it4.This formulation is extremely attractive to people fighting authoritarian regimes as well as to those who believe in the efficacy of people’s associations to restrain and reform the state. The later version may well be applicable to the democracies like India where the state is not overtly authoritarian and there are constitutional rights and laws to safeguard the freedom of the citizens. Thus while in the overtly authoritarian and military regimes people crave for a space to form associations and engage in the politics of good life in a sphere, which is not under the surveillance of the state and pressurise the state to grant them the rights and liberties to transform the vision in to reality, since a democratic state gives people this space through institutionalisation of the rights, freedom and laws, people assert their collective strength in civil society when the state deviates from its role or becomes overbearing. Conceptualisations like this make civil society extremely desirable for it reflects on the strength and responsibility of ordinary men and women to throw their own conceptions of good life, the kind of society they would like to live in and the kind of polity they would like to be governed by. What these conceptualisations fail to capture or ignore is that civil society is equally capable to be undemocratic, discriminatory, and exclusionary. Civil society is as much susceptible to be corrupted by the inequalities in society as the state. Civil society is attractive to people because it is informed by the values of egalitarianism and it is emancipatory, but that should not blind us to the power struggles in this sphere or the conflicts and contestations, which mar the democratic values of civil society. As we proceed to analyse the Chilika movement it will be clear how the inequalities in society prompt collective action, but also how collective action is constrained by these inequalities and divisiveness. Therefore, the process of democratisation of the polity,, which takes place in civil society is intrinsically related to the democratisation of society.

Another problematic with this conceptualisation is that in locating civil society as the realm between the family and the state, or as the third realm different from market and the state, civil society is organically delinked from the state. In their over zealousness to emphasise on the autonomy and independence of the third sphere, the theorists of civil society ignore the fact that in countries like India, where governance is in the hands of a constitutional democratic state, however inadequate or formal that may appear to be, the state in fact, on the one hand provides the framework in the form of rights, freedom and laws to enable people to come together for collective action, and on the other, inadvertently conditions the initiatives in civil society. And if we were to capture the essence of the state and civil society on the basis of their ultimate ideals, we have to concede that notwithstanding the deviations, they share the same vision - the vision of universal freedom and universal rights (Mohanty 1999). That is to say the overlapping between the boundaries of the state and civil society is as much a concern in this discussion as their differences.

Coming to governance, in contemporary times the World Bank is credited with making the term popular in development discourse (World Bank 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994). Failure of its economic policies in the African countries led the Bank to conclude that something was terribly wrong with governance in these countries and the Bank equated administrative inefficiency, corruption, lack of transparency, lack of accountability, violation of the rule of law etc with bad governance. The solution to this was sought in achieving in the Bank’s terminology “good governance”- enhancement in the quality and process of administration. The Bank nevertheless, avoided taking a stand on the type of political regime or form of governance as a requisite for good governance and reduced good governance to mere administrative reforms (Guhan 1998). The conceptual gap is filled by the bilateral donors who by making the developmental aid conditional to democracy and the granting of civil rights have equated good governance with the political regime of democracy5. Around the same time as governance was being thought problematic in many countries around the globe, the manner of the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa, made civil society the new mantra for achieving good governance. The linkage of civil society and good governance therefore rests on assumptions that a vibrant civil society, the collective engagement of people with governance structures will result in the ushering of a liberal- democratic political environment and make the administrative agencies efficient and responsive to people’s needs. The emphasis on good governance therefore, is sought to provide congenial political and administrative conditions for the growth of market and also to reform the state in the badly governed developing countries by making civil society the vanguard in promoting liberal-democratic ideals. Thus, the earlier sanctions imposed through making development aid conditional to the presence of democracy and civil rights, have been replaced by rewards in the form of support to civil society in the developing countries, with the hope that they will foster democracy, transparency, accountability, and rule of law in these countries. Therefore, historically speaking, the timing of the tying up of the two terms - civil society and good governance - could not have been better. 

While it is important to remember that governance, which beginning with the World Bank is making the rounds in development aid vocabulary, is intrinsically linked to liberalisation of the economy and opening of space for the market, it also needs to be reiterated that irrespective of the genesis and popularity of the term, “good governance” is itself a desirable state de affaire.  Nevertheless, the definition of governance and the linkage between civil society and good governance raise some questions and concerns:

The conceptualisations of governance are not embedded in the wider social context in, which inequalities and divisiveness of various kinds affect the governance structures and the celebratory status bestowed upon civil society hides the conflicts and contestations taking place in this sphere.  These conceptualisations do not take in to account the wider social and political system in, which political and social are not distinct but overlapping, and that mars the autonomy and independence of the state and makes civil society vulnerable to conflicts and contestations of various kinds.
This simplistic understanding of governance and civil society is behind the exceedingly optimistic assumption that everything else remaining the same civil society initiatives alone can help in promoting good governance.  That the agencies of governance often get vitiated by the dominant interests and power structures of society can not be overlooked in any discussion of governance in India This brings us to the heart of the civil society and good governance assumption that given the legitimacy of political regime of democracy, the enhancement in quality and competency of administration would result in good governance, and collective initiatives in civil society can effectively pursue this end. Arguments like this resting on assumptions of social neutrality as they are do not take into consideration the entrenched inequalities and divisiveness in a country likes India. The contexts of inequalities put different groups in unequal relations with each other and vis-à-vis the state, and therefore not only collective action is constrained in myriad ways, the instances of allying of powerful groups with the governance agencies may well mean that actors in civil society can not deal with the governance agencies in complete isolation from the wider social setting in, which unequally placed groups compete with each other to appropriate the scare resources and in, which fulfilment of political aspirations makes  electoral politics of democracy  manipulate the  sectarian interests. In such a situation can bad governance be only ineffective and incompetent administration, and can improvement in quality and performance of administration be called good governance and last but not the least, can we assume that in the same environment in, which dominant interests oppress and alienate the marginalised, civil society actors can always elicit positive response from the sate? If the relationship between the state and civil society is far from congenial what implication does that have for civil society and its democratic agenda? This case study raises these questions in the context of collective action in Chilika. By doing so it suggests that the existing notions of governance needs to be expanded to accommodate both the wider social and political system. It also reveal that notwithstanding the tremendous odd against, which civil society actors have to sail, instances of collective action show that the disadvantaged and marginalised people are capable of not only interrogating and challenging the state, they are equally capable of refashioning their relationship with the state. These notions of governance coming from people are what I suggest, to be considered as constitutive elements of good governance.

Development, Resource Use and People’s Movement
Mobilisation by the marginalised groups to protect their livelihood resources against commercial use is not new in India. During the colonial regime there were tribal and peasant uprisings against the state intervention in the customary practices of the people. The replacement of customary management of the common property resources by the state management led to conflict of interest and it manifested in people asserting their claim, right, and control over their subsistence resources. After independence, the developmental ideal prompted the state to pursue a path of economic growth through optimum utilisation of the natural resources. Thus economic growth through industrialisation and commodity production became the core of Indian economy and industry, mining, and giant irrigation projects took shape in quick succession to change the economic and social landscape.  The developmental path of a democratic state was ideally designed to benefit the disadvantaged and promote equity and social justice. Ironically the democratic developmental agenda of the state was subverted by the dominant forces as they appropriated the benefits of development much to the disadvantage of the marginalised who had suffered social and economic vulnerability in the past and who the developmental projects were designed to bring benefit (Kothari 1986; Bardhan 1984, 1988; Kohli 1987, 1988; Dhanagre 1987). Not only developmental projects did not benefit them; they added new dimensions of disadvantages to their already disadvantaged position.  As the techno centric economic growth took off and huge irrigation, hydel projects, and heavy industries took shape, thousands of people were displaced from their original habitat and without a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation policy displacement became the inevitable fall out of development.  As the natural resources were put into commercial use a large number of people directly dependent on nature for their subsistence lost their access and control over their resources. It is no surprise then that they have resisted the policies formulated to bring benefit to them. While the resistance to the colonial state was prompted by an understanding that it was an alien and oppressive state, the post- colonial assertions are against the Indian state, the developmental logic of whose is legitimised in the name of people6.  What prompts people to question this logic and legitimacy?  How do the hitherto voiceless people get the voice to question the state, which they have regarded as their benefactor?  From where do they get the resources to mobilise themselves? How does civil society formulates its own discourse vis-à-vis the state? How does the state respond to these interrogating voices of the marginalised? Do the marginalised groups always find collective action enabling? How do these assertions in civil society vis-à-vis the state shapes the democratic polity and society in, which we live? The study is intended to answer these questions.

These contemporary assertions by the marginalised to gain control over their resources reveals on the one hand the tenuous relationship between the neglected citizenry and the state and on the other the potential of these people to redefine and refashion this relationship. As Melucci puts it “The public spaces, which are beginning to develop in complex societies are points of connection between political institutions and collective demands, between the functions of government and the representatives of conflict” (Melucci 1988: 259). The conflicts over natural resources as I pointed out earlier are not new, but the contemporary movements have added a new dimension to the struggle by articulating the issues in terms of survival of the majority dependent on nature, and the related issues of dominance, unequal distribution of developmental benefits, sustainable development and people’s involvement in the decision making7. These movements have given people new identities and have inspired them to imagine a kind of society they would like to live and the kind of polity they would like to be governed by; at the same time they have provided people with new strategies to pose resistance to the forces, which hinder the realisation of these ideals. The movements like the resistance in Chilika are reflection of this new self-reflection among people - who are they and what kind of life they would like to live? What would be their relationship with nature, with fellow human beings, with public institutions and with the state that governs them? As people address these questions collectively they bring these questions to the public sphere where they are debated, discussed and democratised.

Chipko Movement, which heralded the people’s resistance for control over their sustenance resources, was a movement by the local people particularly women in the hills of Garhwal, Uttar Paradesh to save their forest from commercial felling. It was the continuation of the old peasant struggle, but it added new dimension to the struggle by raising the issue of survival, dependence and control of people over their resources and by directing the struggle not against any class per se but against the state (Guha 1991). It happened in the early 1970’s, a period significant for the Stockholm Conference on Environment. Chipko brought home the truth that environmental degradation and social inequalities are intrinsically linked in more than one way (Guha 1991; Bhatt 1991). The overuse of natural resources for commercial purposes not only deprives people from their resource base and widens the gap between the elites and the impoverished masses, it does not leave any choice for the people to use their resources sustainably, because the people dependent on the dwindling material base for their sustenance can not be asked to be prudent users of nature. The success of Chipko was followed by resistance against big dams, mines, and industry. In Tehri, Neramada, the Western Ghats, Kaiga, Baliapal people started raising voices against the developmental policies of the state, against the loss of their productive resources like forest, water, and land and against the large-scale displacement, which has become a common feature of all the big developmental projects. The local resistance have performed two significant tasks: they have amplified the voice of the marginalised against the dominant interests and have shown us that the disprivileged, when mobilised, are capable of not only defining what constitutes a good life, a good society and a good polity, they are equally capable of suggesting the ways to execute and actualise these ideals

In pursuance of the research framework and the research questions suggested by the Project, the study focused on the key governance problems- the issues and the processes that crystallised people's resistance into a mass movement; support / alliance the movement built with other actors in civil society – other civil society organisations, intellectuals, students, human rights activists; collective mobilisation in Chilika; mechanisms and strategies the movement adopted to interact with the government at local, provincial and national level to influence the policy; and the long term impact of  the movement on governance, as  far as policy decisions are concerned.

Information for the study was collected from various sources- interviews were conducted with people from the villages (Panaspada -Gopinathpur, Siara and Satpada in Puri District) adjacent to the ISFP; with students who were involved with the movement; with the leaders of the Chilika Bachao Andolan and with other civil society leaders who gave active support to the movement; with journalists who not only supported the cause but also by providing wide coverage to the movement raised public opinion; with intellectuals; and with political leaders. Pamphlets, press releases and other literature of the movement provided insight into the way the movement articulated the issues and mobilised people. Various studies and government reports on Chilika were a rich source of information on the lake, its ecosystem and the complexities of its socio- economic mosaic.

Contextualising the Resistance
Chilika, located in the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Orissa, is the largest brackish water lake in India. It is home to large varieties of fish and plants that thrive in the brackish water. The lake is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a long sandy ridge varying between 100 to 300 yards in width with one natural opening near Arakhkuda, which permits the flow of water and migration of fish from the sea to the lake. The lake maintains a sweet- saline ecosystem during the year. It becomes sweeter (less saline) between July and December due to inflow of floodwater and becomes more saline between January and June due to the ingress of seawater. Chilika has been identified as a wetland of international importance at the Ramsar Convention, held in Iran in 1971 to, which India was a signatory. Government of India has also declared Chilika as a bird sanctuary for facilitating the migration of nearly 132 species of birds from Siberia every winter.

A large number of villages in and around the lake are inhabited by a heterogeneous population comprising of both fishermen and non-fishermen belonging to different castes. Fishing and agriculture are the two primary sources of livelihood for these people. The fishermen belong to the lower castes and most of them are either landless or posses tiny landholdings. They therefore, are completely dependent on fishing. The non-fishermen belong to higher castes and are engaged in agriculture. A large number of them however, have taken to fishing to supplement their income because the productivity of the land is low due to salinity, erratic monsoon and lack of irrigation facilities. Many non-fishermen are now engaged in fishing, particularly after prawn became a lucrative market commodity. Ever since the white prawn and the tiger prawn became lucrative export items, besides many non-fishing families, traders and rich and influential people from outside have taken to shrimp farming thus displacing the fishing communities from their resource base.

Since fishing is done by the lower castes in earlier times it was looked down upon as a lowly occupation and higher castes in the past shunned fishing. Now that the higher castes are themselves engaged in fishing, the stigma attached to the occupation is removed. Nevertheless for social purposes the upper castes still maintain their distance from the lower castes. The low social status of the fishermen gets intensified by their low economic status. They live in conditions of poverty, there is not much education among them, and many of them are in debt, taken from moneylenders, middlemen, and traders for household expenses and for buying fishing equipment. The caste and class differences are thus very sharp in the area.

Traditional Fishing Grounds

On the basis of general slope of land and the depth of water in the lake the fishing grounds can be grouped as follows:

Jano: Jano fishing grounds are mostly located around the various islands of the lake. Jano fisheries are barricaded fisheries (barricaded with split bamboos) in sallow water and are operated from October to February.

Khati:  Khati fisheries are shrimp fishing grounds in, which fishing is done with traps. Khati fishing is done mostly with the help of bamboo traps set in shore areas and are operated between March and September.

Bahan: Bahan refers to net fishing,, which is done in the deeper portion of the lake. Net fishing is done throughout the year but to a lesser extent during October to December.

Dian:  Dian fishery ground is confined to upland areas and is operated during September to January.

Uthapani:  Uthapani refers to shallow water fishing during monsoon

The fishing practices differ for the fishermen belonging to different caste groups:

Keuta (also known as kaibarta or khatia) form 68%of the traditional fishermen and they fish with nets. Kandara, the second largest group use traps - dhaudi and tata, for catching crabs and prawns.  Tiar people use bamboo traps called baja. Karatias use both traps and nets for fishing.

Besides there are Nolias - the telegu immigrants who fish mainly in the sea and partly in the lake mouth and in some parts of the outer channel with drag nets and cast nets and a lrge number of refugees from East Bengal who have taken to fishing as their means of livelihood though they donot posses any legal right to fish in the lake.

In the past the castes were required to follow their respective fishing practices and any violation of the rule was considered as a serious social offence. The kandaras and Tiars thus could use only bamboo implements like traps and the rest used nets. The fishermen had to go to their prescribed fishing grounds even if it was at a distance from the village.

Fishing Rights of the People

The traditional fishing communities claim their fishing rights to the British period. When Chilika fishery sources were in the hands of the kings of Parikuda and Khalikota, the fishermen used to obtain most of the fishery sources by paying royalty to the king. In order to protect the interest of fishermen and eliminate the non- fishermen and traders encroaching on the rights of the fishermen, the first co-operative society, Balugaon Fishermen Co-operative Store, was established in 1926 at Balugaon, in the Puri District. It brought 24 fisheries under it. After the abolition of the estates and with the fishery sources coming within the preview of the government of Orissa in 1953, they were leased out by the Anchal Adhikari through open auction to the fishermen. The non-fishermen were allowed to take a limited number of dian fisheries and in some cases a few jano fisheries. Besides the unleased bahani areas were open for the non-fishermen to catch fish by paying a nominal fees to the government.This practice continued till 1959 when the Central Cooperative Marketing Society was established in Balugaon.The Central Society was designed to act as an apex body that would take lease from the government and sublease them to the primary fishermen co-operatives. A dual co-operative structure was thus established to protect and regulate the fishing right of the people. The Central Society was to take lease from the Revenue Department through the Collectorate of Puri and Ganjam to sublease them to primary co-operatives at that time numbering 48. Most of the important fishery sources were subleased to the primary societies.  In case there was no primary society dian fisheries were subleased to villages dominated by fishermen. Those sources, which were not taken on lease by the Central Society, were auctioned. The tehsildards (government officials from the revenue department operating at the block level) of Puri, krushnaprasada, Banpur and Ganjam had the right to settle the unleased fisheries through auction. The Chilika reorganisation scheme thus made a clear cut distinction between fishermen and non-fishermen and gave non- fishermen limited right on the lake

Till 1988 however, there was no clear cut demarcation of fishing sources, type of net to be used, and barricades to be set up to catch prawn. This resulted in considerable difficulty for the primary societies to operate. There was a dispute in 1986 between two primary societies relating to the fixing of barricades for catching prawn. It was a dispute between fishermen inhabiting the upper and lower region of the lake. The fishermen in the upper region had fixed very lengthy barricades, which obstructed the flow of fish to the lower region. Following this dispute the 1988 policy demarcated the fishery sources; it also increased the annual lease of fisheries to three years.

In 1991 the Government of Orissa issued an order, which divided the fisheries in Chilika into two categories- capture and culture, without however, adequately defining the meaning of the terms. Capture rights were confined to the fishermen and culture was opened to the non-fishermen and those villages, which were not member of primary societies. Since the government order did not lay down any guidelines for the operation of capture and culture fisheries, the Collector was free to act according to his discretion. This policy created further confusion and conflict. The fishermen feared that their traditional rights were being curtailed by leasing out culture sources to the non-fishermen.

Despite the time and again reiteration by the government that the policies were meant to safeguard the traditional rights of the fishermen, the policies did not yield the desired effect for various reasons- they were ill defined, there was lack of rational and equitable distribution of fisheries; there was widespread illegal subleasing of fisheries and there was no mechanism to prevent it. The Central Society was given limited power and it acted merely as a body between the Revenue Department and the primary societies. The Central Society itself made erratic distribution and illegal subletting. Most primary societies bypassed the Central society and marketed directly through commissioned agents. The very purpose of a dual co-operative structure designed to protect the interest of the fishermen was thus vitiated

Initially the culturing of prawn began in the peripheral landmass of chilika. The leased out dians, uthapani, and upland jano fishries were converted into prawn culture ponds with mud embankment. Later the lake, deeper chilika, was also enclosed with bamboo poles and net for prawn culture. 

Since 1980's the lake is witnessing widespread subletting of leased out fisheries by the Central Society and the primary societies and illegal encroachment by non-fishermen and outsiders8. This culturing of prawn on a big scale has resulted in the widespread conversion of traditional fisheries into prawn culture ponds or net enclosed gheries(barricaded space). Culture fishery requires heavy capital investment but ensures big profit. Hence many primary societies have found it a source of making money by leasing it out to resourceful persons.
This widespread culturing of prawn has threatened the livelihood of traditional fishermen as well as the ecosystem of the lake. Thousands of fishermen and non-fishermen families have lost their livelihood due to conversion of traditional fishing sources in to culture fishery. Cases of litigation and prawn politics now define the lives of the people in Chilika. Besides large scale obstruction and blockade in the water channels obstructs the free flow of water, free migration of fish juveniles and loss of grazing ground for the fish. The gheries also act as silt trap and accelerate the process of siltation.

It is in this socio- economic and political background that the Government of Orissa made an agreement with the business house of the Tatas for a joint semi- intensive prawn culture project called the Integrated Shrimp Farm Project (ISFP) and allowed the business house of the Tatas an advance possession of 400 hectares of land in Chilika for the IFSP.

The Integrated Shrimp Farm Project

In 1986 the then Congress government of Orissa entered in to deal with the Tata Acquatic Farms Ltd. to lease 1400 hectares of land in Chilika for prawn cultivation for a period of 15 years. The government had 10 % shares in the deal. The Janata Dal had opposed the project then. When it came to power in 1989, it merely changed the name of the farm into Chilika Acquatic Farms Ltd and increased the share of govt to 49%. In December 1991, the Governmnet of Orissa leased a landmass of 400 hectares in advance (from Barakudi village in Brahmagiri block to Gamhari village in Krushna Prasad block in  Puri District) to the business house of Tata for the prawn culture.

The project envisaged the creation of an artificial lake inside Chilika by enclosing the landmass with a 13.7 kms long ring embankment. This artificial lake was to be divided into a number of ponds in, which the prawns are to be nurtured and reared commercially.

The project comprised of the following units:

Shrimp farm: 300 ha. Pond area in Chilika to produce 1500 M.T of shrimp per annum.

Shrimp hatchery near Puri to produce 200 million post- larvae shrimp seeds.

Shrimp feed mill to be established in due course

Processing plant: to process 1500 M.T of shrimp for export initially in a leased out plant.

The entire output of the farm was to be processed and exported. The annual turn over from the farms was to be of RS. 3000 lakhs, which was to be in foreign exchange.

As a part of the extension service to small scale farmers and co-operatives in Chilika region, the project mentioned that about 70 million post larvae would initially be made available to them along with technical advice. As the requirement for feed increases due to increase in farm areas and production, a captive feed mill would be established in due course. The project stated that the shrimp produced by the farmers would be brought by the project at fair market price. The training, technical assistance, and services would be imparted to the framers free of cost and the Government of Orissa would render any infrastructure help required in this regard.

The Project emphasised that the direct as well as indirect employment of people in the project and opening of new farms would elevate the socio - economic status of the people around the farm9.

Civil Society Assertion
Though the fishing communities had been resisting the commercial use and their consequent loss of control over their resources, never a mass mobilisation could take place in Chilika till the ISFP took shape and the threats became more visible, imminent and gigantic. The people of the villages adjacent to the Tata project were aware about the project but there was little awareness about the threats it would pose to their livelihood.  In fact, the people anticipated a good bargain for their fish catch and employment in the project.  Initially a few educated people in these villages became sceptical about the project. Later Meet the Students (MTS) group, an informal group of students who took active interest in social change, from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar (the capital city of Orissa) took initiative to visit the villages and discussed the issues with the villagers. Chitta Ranjan Sarangi, though not a student from the university, worked closely with the MTS group and played an important role in awareness raising and organising the people against the Tata project during the initial stage. The students from the University with the local students began visiting the villages regularly. The MTS group was a group of young people pursuing radical ideas of social change and their aim was to make people conscious of the injustices perpetrated both by the society and the state. Later a provincial level students forum Krantadarshi Yuva Sangam (KYS) was formed to mobilise the youths against the Tata project. Its core group was formed by the students who were earlier members of MTS and as they passed out of the university they joined the KYS.  Thereafter it was decided that MTS would function at the university level and KYS would function as a forum to mobilise the youths against the project.  

This was in August 1991. With the initiatives of the students a meting of the intellectuals was convened at Bhubaneswar. Out of this meeting grew Chilika Suraksha Parishad, which was assigned the task of creating public opinion regarding the issues in the cities of Orissa, mainly in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Cuttack It was a forum, which invited the think tanks of oriya society to deabte and discuss the issue and provide moral support to the cause, which MTS was trying to promote.

Gradually the students also realised that the local organisations could be an effective vanguard for carrying the resistance against the project.  Their grounding on the local issues and the trust local people have in their own organisations would help the local organisations carry the resistance forward more effectively.  Steps were thus taken to involve the Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha, a mass organisation of 122 revenue villages in Chilika, which works towards the protection of interests of the fishermen. Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha,, which was fallen to the politics of rivalry between political parties, was revived to take up the cause of the fishermen vis-à-vis the Tata project.  The Chilika Bachao Andolan (CBA)was formally launched in January 1992 to work as an extension of Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha in the areas adjacent to the project to spearhead the movement. Sri Govind Behera of was nominated as the convenor of the movement.

CBA was extended support by many other civil society organisations like Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan an organisation based in Bhubaneswar and working towards the protection of the democratic rights of the people, and Orissa krushak Mahasangha  (OKM), which works for the cause of the farmers. Mr. B.B Das, the president of OKM, played an important role in highlighting the environment hazards of the project and persuaded the government to undertake an environment impact assessment study relating to the project. He was also instrumental in inviting the attraction of the international community to the issue by campaigning that the Government of India must honour the Ramsar Convention in, which Chilika lake was declared as one of the endangered wetland, which needed to be protected.

All these civil society initiatives and formations gave the local people’s protest the form of a movement, which raised economic, social, legal and environmental issues related to the project. The followings were some of the prominent issues raised by the movement:

  1. The land allotted to the ISFP was traditionally being used by the neighbouring 26 villages for harvesting prawn. The shallow water collected during monsoon was ideal for the natural breeding of prawn.
  2. The threats of flood and water logging due to the construction of the embankment on the Bhubania canal, which forms the outlet of the lake into the sea.
  3. The embankment would obstruct the movements of the fish and prawn from brackish water to the sea during the breeding season. This would obstruct the natural regeneration of the prawns.
  4. Long-term availability of fish within the lake would be adversely affected due to the pollution caused by protein feed chemicals and pesticides.
  5. The project had moved ahead without the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment.
  6. The land given on lease to the ISFP was classified as reserved westland and community pasture land. Hence the leasing of the lake was illegal as the lake was not classified under leasable property.

The above immediate issues were linked by the movement with the central question on development and resource use. As the movement put it:

"The Tata project is not the central point of attack of this people's movement. The prime focus of opposition is the policy of the government towards Chilka and its people, and the Tata project is only an instance of this policy " (From a booklet titled, Chilika: Voice Of The people, published by Chilika Bachao Andolan, Kantadarshi Yuva Sangam, the year of publication is not available).

The movement articulated the issues in the three questions it posed:

  1. Whom does Chilika belong to - the people or the state?
  2. If the big business houses enter into prawn culture what will be the fate of the people for whom fishing has been the only source of livelihood?
  3. In a situation where the commercial use of resources comes into conflict with the livelihood pursuit of poor people, what should be the priority of the state?

These questions contain what I cited earlier in this paper as notions of governance coming from the people.  The movement thus helped redefine the priorities the state must keep in view in formulating and executing its developmental objective. It also redefined the relationship between the state and the marginalised. At the risk of repetition I would like to emphasise that it showed the capacity of ordinary people to refashion their relationship with the state and with other sections in society. These notions of governance do not merely speak of administrative inefficiency of the state, they reveal flaws in the decision-making, the wrong priorities of the state, and they demand that the state must correct its priorities keeping in view the interests of the poor and the marginalised.

Initially the mobilisation against the Tata project was confined to a few villages adjacent to the project. On September 20,1991 the date on, which the three year lease to the Central Co-operative Society was expiring thousands of fishermen gathered at the state capital, Bhubaneswar and protested in front of the Vidhan Sabha (provincial assembly), which was in session. A written memorandum was given to the Fishery Minister who in turn assured people that not even an inch of Chilika would be leased out to the business house of the Tatas. The Janata Dal, which was in opposition, favoured the people against the ruling Congress party.  Demonstrations, meetings, dharnas and rallies at the project site and in the state capital summarise the activities of the movement during this phase.

In its second phase the movement became more broad based and adopted a somewhat militant tone when the people broke the embankment of the project10. The bureaucracy and the police tried brutal measures to suppress the resistance at the local level. Many people were injured as police beat them mercilesslessly and many were put in the jail. It is important to note that in this period the Janata Dal was in power and given its earlier support to the movement it was expected that it would favour the people. But the trust people had in their leaders got a set back when not only the party when it came to power tried to promote the Tata project, it also resisted the movement11. Nevertheless, the protest continued and the broader environmental issues pertaining to the project was beginning to be addressed by the movement along with the livelihood issues. The fragile ecosystem of the lake and the threat to the livelihood of fishermen were articulated to put pressure on the government.  In advocating the environmental aspects of the issue emphasis was given on India's commitment to the international community to preserve the lake, which was declared as an endangered wetland in the Ramsar Convention and to, which India was a signatory It was reiterated repeatedly that preserving the environment was the fundamental duty of the citizen.

At this stage, disagreement appeared regarding the leadership of the movement between the Chilika based Chilika Bachao Andoaln and Bhubaneswar based Orissa Krushak Mahasangha. There was a strong resistance to the leadership of Mr.B.B Das, President, Orissa Krushak Mahasangha12 as it was felt by the local leaders that the by overemphasising on the Ramsar Convention he was not only limiting the scope of the movement, it was feared that he was hijacking the movement in his favour. The student activists, who worked relentlessly in making the people aware of the threat from the project, had tried hard to put the responsibility of leadership on the local people. The movement at the local level thus time and again gave emphasis on the local leadership and saw the movement as a reflection of the initiatives taken by the people and a manifestation of their strength - gan udyam avam gan sakti (people’s initiative, people’s power ) . The motive was to make people aware of their situation so that they can articulate the issues for themselves. Hence it purposefully defied any notion of leadership while recognising that every mass movement does need a charismatic leader to initiate the process and articulate the issues for the masses. But ultimately the people themselves carry the process forward. Hence no one should claim the leadership of any such movement13.

Thereafter Chilika Bachao Andoaln continued its activism at the village level and Orissa krushak Mahasangha operated at the provincial capital and national level. People at the village level raised issues pertaining to the loss of their livelihood resources, loss of their control over these resources and kept the resistance confined to the local area. Orissa krushak Mahasangha articulated the issues in environmental terms linking the threat from the project with the fragile ecosystem of the lake and livelihood of the fishermen and as a strategic choice emphasised on the Ramsar Convention14. It's aim was to stop the project and as its president B.B Das puts it " To win the battle one must know where the week point of the opposite party lies and the issue on, which the public opinion- local, national, and international- can be created. We therefore, purposefully chose the environmental aspects of the project because we could site the Ramsar Convention on the one hand, and the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment by the pro ject, on the other. Our weakness lies in the fact that we could not involve the local people as we could not use their language to further the cause" (personal interview). At the same time the government was interrogated on the ground of legality of the issues by invoking the Land Settlement Act according to, which Chilika is a 'reserved Westland' and therefore cannot be leased to any individual or company.

Unlike the advocacy campaign, which was carried on at the provincial and national level away from the villagers, and therefore was not affected by the inequalities and power equations prevalent at the local level, the local struggle had not only to constantly negotiate with the dynamics prevalent in the sphere of civil society; it had to struggle hard to keep the spirit of resistance alive. This had significant bearing on the nature of the movement. The movement was primarily a resistance by the fishermen, as a strategic choice to make the mobilisation broad based the non - fishermen were persuaded to join the movement. Since the Project was perceived as a threat even by the non-fishermen both engaged in fishing as source of livelihood or in Prawn cultivation for commercial purposes, they eagerly joined the struggle. Nevertheless, this solidarity was confined only to resistance against the Tata Project; in the day to day living the two groups continued with their traditional rivalry. The fishermen historically exploited by the powerful and dominant non- fishermen were suspicious of the latter’s motive and in reiterating their claim over the fishery resources alienated even those non-fishermen for whom fishing has become a source of livelihood. The leaders of Chilika Bachao Andoaln tried to keep the resistance against the Tata project shield from the local conflicts between the groups and assured the fishermen that the priority was to fight the bigger enemy, the house of the Tatas, and once that battle was won, the other exploiters of the fishermen’s resources (which were called mini Tatas) will be dealt with15.  

After a letter signed by 21 Members of Parliament belonging to different political parties was given to the Prime Minister and a memorandum to the Union Minister of Environment and Forests that the Central Government started paying attention to the problem. The then Union Minister for Environment and Forest Mr. Kamal Nath intervened and the Ministry issued an order putting ban on further work on the project till an environmental impact assessment study was conducted. The business house of Tata assigned this task to the Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCO)- a government of India undertaking, even when there were objections from the side of the movement relating to the credibility of WAPCO to undertake such a study. Both the Government of Orissa and the business house of Tata were emphatic on the positive aspects of the projects The Chief Minister of Orissa dismissed the movement as politically motivated and as the handi work of certain local hoteliers and marine exporters. The stand of the corporate house throughout was that the Project had very good foreign exchange potential and that the fishermen in the area would get a better price for their catch. It dubbed the movement as an act of prawn middleman, disgruntled politicians, ill informed beaureucrats, and environmentalists. WAPCO's report gave a clean chit to the project- it found the project to be environment friendly and having no adverse effect on the environment of the lake. There was opposition and criticism of the report both by the movement and by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Ministry much to the dissatisfaction of the government of Orissa maintained that the project could precede only after a proper environmental impact assessment was done by a competent body of experts. A three member team deputed by the Central Government  to assess the situation in the lake expressed apprehension that the effluent discharged form the pond might affect the water quality of the lake. Furthermore, since the total water requirement of the farm ponds was proposed to be met by ground water extraction, the team feared that it might affect water availability in the area.

While the rift between the Government of Orissa and the Union Ministry was going on and the movement was advocating vociferously against the project, the judgement of the High Court of Orissa relating to the fishing rights of the fishermen in Chilika clearly put a stop on intensive or semi-intensive prawn cultivation in the lake16. Some primary fishermen societies had filed a case against the 1991 policy of the Government of Orissa and the subsequent encroachment on the rights of the fishermen. The report of the Fact Finding Committee (popularly known as Das Committee) constituted to study the situation in the area reported widespread prawn cultivation and its adverse effect on the livelihood of people and the ecosystem of the lake. The High Court verdict in 1993, though not directly related to the Tata project, by putting a ban on intensive and semi- intensive prawn cultivation, barred the Tata project.

It may be argued that the verdict of the High Court was not a direct response to the movement. Nevertheless, the very fact that the resistance to the project was grounded on same issues, which the Das Committee report substantiated and that the government by recognising the negative impact of intensive prawn cultivation on the eco system of the lake and on livelihood of people did recognise the validity of people’s voice against the project, speaks about the triumph of people’s collective resistance to the project.

The battle with the corporate house was won, but the battle with the mini Tatas was soon forgotten. The temporary alliance between the fishermen and non-fishermen was broken with this victory and the illegal encroachment on the lake continued. The leadership was amateur, the movement was episodic in nature and the duration was too short to make people conscious of long-term goals.  The rivalry between the city based advocacy campaign and the local resistance further weakened the chances of a unified struggle as both claimed the victory to be theirs17.

Civil Society and Governance: Summing Up the Argument
The case study indicates that collective assertions by the marginalised takes place when the state abdicates its responsibility towards them. The insensitive and inadequacies of the governance agencies to protect the interest of the marginalised groups provide the context for collective action. Civil society actions in such situations address the concerns the state is expected to address and the effort is to reform the state and bring the state back to perform the role for, which it came into existence or to use a popular expression - not let the state off the hook. In Chilika the protest began when the state showed its insensitivity to people by putting their livelihood resources to commercial use. Moreover the shifting of responsibility of the regulation of the sphere from the state to the market further accentuated the dissatisfaction and apprehension among the fishermen who could not visualise the business house of Tata, governed by profit motive, giving priority to their needs.

It is not the distinction between the state and civil society but the blurring of boundaries between the two, which informs their relationship and this in turn must inform any analysis of the interface between civil society and governance. This overlapping of the boundaries between the state and civil society is evident in two ways: civil society offers resistance to the state within the state given framework. In this case it were inadequacies in the existing structure of rights and threat to the existing rights that created ground for civil society to come into prominence. The movement's discourse on rights defined, which rights were important for whom and who should possess, which rights as a matter of priority and that the role of the state was not merely to recognise and grant these rights but to protect them, as well. It upheld the state's commitment to international community to preserve the lake and referred to the constitution to validate the cause of environment protection as the moral duty of the citizens. Secondly, civil society uses the legally sanctioned means such as dharna, demonstration, and meetings.  The state when challenged even by peaceful ways tried to suppress the collective voice but civil society witnessed the worse when it used violent means such as breaking the embankment. However, the operation of civil society within the state given framework does not necessarily imply that civil society remains subservient to the state or the framework is unamendable. While interrogating the state within the framework provided by the state, collective action can significantly alter the contents of this framework. Thirdly, as mentioned elsewhere in this paper civil society and the state share the same ideals - ideals of universal freedom and universal rights (Mohanty 1999). Beneath the conflict between the state and civil society therefore there is an underlying unity of principles. When the state deviates from its ideals, shuns its responsibility towards its people, or does not fulfil its promises, collective action emerges to fill the space lying vacant due to the withdrawal of the state. However it is important to note than even in such situations civil society does not strive to replace the state; it aims at reforming the state so that the state lives up to its ideals.

The movement dispelled the myth about an unproblematic ideal of civil society. Differences of opinion, interests, the language in, which issues were articulated among groups, and disputes over leadership were distinct in this particular instance of people's mobilisation. This has significant implication for civil society. The conflicts of interest between fishermen and non-fishermen created considerable damage to the movement because while civil society needed to engage the non-fishermen in the struggle, it was their involvement,, which limited the scope of the movement and it could not address the issues of illegal encroachment on the lake and widespread prawn cultivation by these dominant groups. Due to the inability of the movement to address these issues it could not be sustained once the victory over the common enemy - the house of the Tatas was achieved.  Furthermore, the divided interest among the leaders who led the advocacy campaign and those who led the local struggle damaged the efficacy of collective action. In this case the two campaigns going on simultaneously helped each other, but they never met to form a single coherent ideological base or strategy. The advocacy campaign though successfully negotiated with the Central Government, could not engage the local people in the campaign. Besides by advocating the issues in a language,, which was not familiar to the people (the emphasis on the Ramsar convention), it further alienated people from the process.  This has far reaching consequence for sustainability of collective action because if people do not become an integral part of the struggle they fail to internalise the intensity of it and the moment the immediate goal is achieved the wider context of assertion is forgotten. Hence every new threat and challenge people face would require groundwork once again.

Inequalities in society provide context for collective action, but collective action is also hindered by these inequalities.  It was the existing socio-economic inequalities and their further perpetuation as a consequence of what people perceive as wrong developmental priorities of the state,, which propelled civil society in to action. However, these inequalities also limited the scope for collective action. For instance, the traditional antagonism, which the fishermen in Chilika have towards the non-fishermen limited their vision to the fact that for the poor non- fishermen fishing is also a livelihood pursuit. That is while assertions in civil society raise critical questions regarding "public good/ collective good" among unequally placed marginal groups there may not always be an unanimity of opinion and interest with regards to "collective good"18.  This conflict of interest between the two equally deprived groups have significant implication for civil society: How can the every day existence be democratised when the groups because of their traditional caste differences and rivalries do not acknowledge their common fate when it comes to questioning the state? Secondly, in the context of this lack of unity among the dispriviledged can assertions in civil society be effectively carried against the powerful and the dominant? Civil society therefore, has to fight a two-way battle in its effort to promote good governance - it must strive to democratise the state; at the same time it must strive to democratise its own sphere.  The contexts of inequalities in, which collective action takes place demand that civil society must strive to reform the state and society at the same time 

The state's response towards the collective action by the marginalised can be both repressive and supportive. The governance agencies at the local and provincial level adopted an antagonistic stand towards the movement in Chilika and in extending support to the ISFP, opposed the movement and tried to suppress it by unleashing violence on people. But there was supportive response from the Union Minister for Environment and Forests and this alliance with the key functionaries strengthened the ability of civil society to interrogate and put pressure on the provincial government.


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1This article is reproduced here with due acknowledgment to Ms. Ranjit Mohanty of PRIA only for the purpose of illustrating preparation of a case study to the programme participants only and is available at www.ids.ac.uk/ids/civsoc/final/india/ind9.doc.
2Conceptualisation of civil society as a non-political sphere does not mean that civil society remains unaffected by the structures and dynamics of power or that there can always be a distinction between civil and political.  Civil society initiatives can take a political turn, but they are not equivalent to political actions in the sense that neither they are initiated by party politics nor they form a part of state structure.
3Taylor 1991; Hanneth 1993; Issac 1993, view civil society as different from the state. See Cohen and Arato 1992, for the conceptualisation of civil society as the third sphere and for the relational aspects between the state, civil society and market see Oommen, 1996.
4For Keane 1988 (a), 1988 (b), 1998 and Chandhoke 1995, civil society performs the important task of reforming the state. Tocqueville 1900, finds civic associations working as watchdogs in a democratic state and Putnam 1999, finds a strong linkage between civic associations and democracy.  Civil society however, is not always conceptualised vis-à-vis the state. Walzer1992, for instance, views civil society as the uncoerced aspect of human association.
5Before the terms governance and democracy became popular in development vocabulary the need to make governance more humane in the existing democracies like India was emphasised by Kothari. See Kothari, 1987, 1988 for a discussion on the desirability of humane governance.
6There is a growing body of literature available on people's resistance to environmental consequences and loss of subsistence natural resources in different regions in India. See Agarwal 1985; Baviskar 1995; Bhatt 1991; Fernandes 1991; Gadgil and Guha 1994; Guha 1989, 1991; Omvedt 1993; Mohanty 1995; Pathak 1994.
7It is not the intention of this paper to go into the debate whether these contemporary movements can be categorised as new social movements. Suffice is to say that because these movements are different from the earlier class based movements, which mobilised people along party lines they reflect a distinct approach towards people's issues and they herald the emergence of a new phase of collective action. 
8See the Report of the Fact Finding Committee On Chilika Fishereies, submitted to the High Court of Orissa, Cuttack on 16th august 1993, for an extensive account of the government policies relating to fishing in Chilika, the ambiguities inherent in these policies and the consequent illegal subletting of the fishery sources and illegal encroachment on the lake by outsiders.
9See the Integrated Shrimp Farm Project Report of Chilika Aquatic Farms Limited, July 1991, for a detail account of the project.
10For a chronological account of the movement see Chilika: Voice of the people, Published by Chilika Bachao Andolan and Krantadarshi Yuva Sangam, the date of publication is not available.
11It is interesting to note that the Janata Dal leader Biju Pattnaik earlier had taken an oath that he would rescue the people and the lake from the clutches of Congress and the Tatas. Due to its resistance to the ISFP, the Janata Dal won all the five provincial assembly seats from the Chilka region.
12Personal interview with the leaders of the movement. This aspect also is briefly mentioned in Maa, Mati, Chilika, Published by Chilka Bachao Andolan and Krantadarshi Yuva Sangam, 1993.
13Personal interviews with the leaders of the movement
14For an account of the views of Mr.B.B. Das see two of his writings Chilka: The Nature's Treasure: Will it be Allowed to Die, a booklet giving the details of the ecology of the lake and the dependence of local people on the lake for their survival and Chilika Lake: Will it be Allowed to Die, a collection of letters (dates of publication of both are not available)
15This aspect of the movement was gathered from the personal interview with the people involved in the movement and from the leaders.
16See the Orissa High Court Verdict, 23rd November 1993 in the matter of an application under Articles 226&227 of the constitution of India and in the matter of an application challenging the Government notification of the date 31st December 1991 laying down the principles of settlement of fisheries of Chilika lake.
17It was gathered during the personal interviews.
18Many authors have linked civil society with public good. Seligman 1995, views civil society as an ethical idea, which balances between individual and public good; according to Tandon 1999, civil society represents the sum total of individual and collective initiatives for common public good.