Chilika Lake is a large brackish stretch of inland water in India, one of the largest areas of brackish water in Asia. Declared a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention it is an area of great ecological diversity and importance, home to migratory birds and dolphins.
The tranquillity and ecological diversity of the area was threatened with destruction when Tata House decided to use it for large-scale industrial shrimp farming. International action, coordinated by Mangrove Action Project and a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court forced the abandonment of the project, but it proved to be a hollow victory when smaller, even less scrupulous operators moved in, to which the corrupt local politicians and bureaucrats turned a blind eye.
Local people, supported by the Fish Workers Forum, have been active in opposing shrimp farming. They won a historic victory against Tata House in the Indian Supreme Court, which declared that there could be no fish farming within 1,000 metres of the lake. Since the ruling, a number of illegal operators have moved in, often with mafia involvement.
The local fishworker organisation gave an ultimatum, destroy all illegal fish farms or we destroy them for you. 10,000 villagers then destroyed 11 of the illegal shrimp farms. Police subsequently raided a village, throwing tear gas, beating and shooting villagers. Four people were killed - one died on the spot, two on the way to hospital, one in hospital - and another 13 were seriously injured.
The Indian authorities have been called upon to evict all the illegal shrimp farms from Chilika Lake and to arrest and punish those responsible for the police brutality.
Following the police brutality large parts of the area were brought to a halt in a general strike (5 June 1999). Rail connections were brought to a halt when fish workers occupied the tracks, in the regional capital, Bhubaneswar, shops were closed, and fishworkers formed a human wall and brought the city to a halt. Police arrested 2000 people.
Local people have issued an urgent international appeal asking that letters of protest be sent to the Indian Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Orissa.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Chief Minister of Orissa Prime Minister of India Bhubaneswar 152, South Block Orissa New Delhi 111 011 India India fax: +91 674 401 007 fax: +91 11 3018 906
Shrimp farming is a major cause of environmental and community destruction in Asia and Latin America.