Global, Regional and National Perspectives
- New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Edited by Nigel Bankes, Irene Dahl and David L. VanderZwaag
Chapter 12: Sustainable aquaculture in India: looking back to think ahead
Farmers and fisher folk in India have practiced aquaculture since time immemorial. References to these practices can be found in ancient Indian texts like Kautilya’s Arthashastra. In eastern India, traditional fish culture was carried out in small ponds – testimony that aquaculture was a major vocation for local communities. Even today, it is hard to find a household in rural Bengal that does not have a fishpond. Alongside these developments in inland aquaculture, coastal communities also developed unique aquaculture practices. For instance, in the coastal state of Goa, traditional tribal communities reclaimed wetlands, salt marshes and mangroves to create the unique khazan ecosystem. In existence for the last 3500 years, the khazan has been developed through a system of dykes, canals, furrows and sluice gates. Its architectural design and engineering system is unique, unassuming and utilizes local resources. More importantly, the system is remarkably sustainable for it integrates agriculture, aquaculture and salt-panning, and caters to the diverse dietary and livelihood requirements of local coastal communities. In the backwaters and agriculture fields in the state of Kerala rural farmers traditionally grew rice for six months each year (May to October) and thereafter cultivated shrimp (November to April). Often referred to as rice-shrimp rotational cropping, this technique proved to be most sustainable as it helped utilize fallow land, idle labour, increase organic content in the soil, reduce insects and pests and served to supplement animal protein in the dietary requirements of the local population. Despite its antiquity, aquaculture in India remained largely dormant and was restricted to a few regions. The technology was traditional, rudimentary and production was largely directed at satiating food demands at the household level. An increased demand for shrimp in western markets in the late 1980s dramatically changed this scenario. At around this time, spurred by the success in attaining food security through the green revolution, the country shifted its attention to the blue revolution. In due course, there was a sharp increase in marine exports. Aquaculture was touted as a potential saviour due to higher investment returns, shorter time frames and access to expanding high value markets. In many ways, aquaculture emerged as a beacon of hope. Nevertheless, behind the façade of these positive economic developments, there were serious environmental and socioeconomic upheavals, which culminated in a path-breaking Supreme Court decision in 1996 that led to the banning of non-traditional shrimp aquaculture in India’s coastal zone. Even though environmentalists and affected communities hailed this decision, the executive and the legislature were unhappy as they felt that the judiciary had failed to strike a balance between environment protection, social justice and economic development. The legislature and the executive accordingly sought to rectify this situation by re-writing the regulatory framework for aquaculture development. This regulatory model deviated partly from the terms of the Supreme Court judgment.
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