Native wisdom

"Engineers like me can't help marvel at the Agaria's skills,' says Vinay Mahajan of the Ahmedabad-based independent research institute Sandarbh Development Studies. Mahajan has co-authored a paper, Yet to be freed, on the lives of Agarias.

In March-April, when the salt harvest is ready, dust laden winds can wreak havoc. The dust can make the salt yellowish, reducing its price. A trench-cum-bund is made around the patas to prevent this. The bund obstructs the wind while a trench traps the clay particles. "This system has evolved in the last 20-25 years,' says Mahajan.

When tractors were introduced in the area in 1979, Agarias made a 25-km long embankment to prevent their salt from being washed away by rains. "People in the concerned area repair it without any engineering assistance. This is a nice social arrangement without any kind of conflict,' says Mahajan. He talks of other forms of cooperation between the salt workers as well. In each salt pan, at least 10 workers are needed. All Agaria families help with labour. Contributory labour system has evolved over the years as it is impossible to get labour from outside.