Farming trouble

Prawn farming, touted as a high-value investment, appears to be generating controversies all over the country. In Tamil Nadu's coastal Quid-e-Millat district, it has become a flashpoint for violent clashes between landless agricultural workers and prawn companies.

The agitating labourers have already succeeded in halting work in almost all the 150 prawn farms in the district. They are now threatening to forcibly grab the 5,000 acres of land of the prawn companies and begin agricultural cultivation on it. The confrontation could turn bloody, warns S Jagannathan, chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Grama Swaraj Movement (GSM).

GSM claims that landless labourers, nearly 60 per cent of the population in the affected areas, will be deprived of their traditional means of livelihood if the land is converted for prawn farming. Jagannathan alleges that the prawn companies have illegally taken over cultivable land. The agitators also claim that prawn farming has led to the seepage of salt water into the land and subsoil water.

Ironically, investment in the district by prawn companies is being encouraged by the Congress MP, Mani Shankar Aiyar, in a bid to provide employment to local jobless workers. Says V J Chandaran, vice president of Prawnex and head of the Aquaculturists Association of the area, "Prawn farming employs more labourers than agriculture, there is work the year round and the wages are higher. The agitators, who have offered to buy the prawn farms to run it themselves, merely want ownership.