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April 10, 2014

India

West Bengal—Boom Times, Salinity Problems, Unregistered Farms

 

 

An economic boom is occurring in the Purba Medinipur District of West Bengal as large tracts of lands are being converted into tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) ponds.  Shrimp farmers, traders and the government are reaping the benefits.  For example, shrimp traders have been making profits that range between 50 and 100 percent, or even more.

 

In the best of years, the profits from the traditional paddy fields (rice, for example), which were replaced by shrimp ponds, hardly exceeded $83 per bigha (1/3 of acre) a year.  Today, by leasing land to shrimp farmers, landowners can earn as much as $668 per bigha a year.  In addition, with each farm employing five to ten workers, new jobs are being created.

 

Aditya Ganthai, a landless laborer ten years ago, is now one of the richest men in the district.   Known for his wealth, clout and brazenness, Ganthai is entangled in multiple legal battles because he illegally channeled salt water from Haldi River to his village for shrimp farming.  Those who leased out land to Ganthai made money, too, but those who did not are left with almost barren tracts of land, caused by salt-water intrusion from the shrimp farms.

 

Dilip Samanta, who owns land in the middle of Ganthai’s shrimp farms, earned as much as $835 a year by selling betel leaves a couple of years ago.  Today, he earns no more than $335 on the same land because saline water from Ganthai’s shrimp farms seeped into his fertile land.  Tapas Mondal, another farmer, is left with a nearly barren paddy field surrounded by shrimp farms.

 

In 2012, a group of aggrieved farmers filed a law suit against the new shrimp farmers, but the court ruled against them, saying that shrimp farming was legal if it had the appropriate approvals from authorities.

 

Of the nearly 25,000 shrimp farms in the district only 500 have legal grounding, so a recently formed government panel is now finding ways to legalize the flourishing shrimp industry.  Recently, Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s Chief Minister, ordered a two-member committee to look into the matter.  Presently, areas near the coastal region are classified as agriculture land.  The amendment would classify the regions as coastal land, which would legalize a large number of shrimp farms, said a government official.

 

Source: Business Standard.  Shrimp Farming Boom in West Bengal as Farmlands Shrink.  Namrata Acharya and Purba Medinipore.  April 8, 2014.

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