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At the Cost of Water and Soil Pollution I

t was nearly dusk in Killai village in coastal Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, on a warm summer day. In a barren field lined with coconut trees and date palm, a pair of loudspeakers tied to an electric pole blared Tamil folk music. In a slow procession, men and women of all ages trickled into the empty field where a stage was set, bearing a red banner with the words “Iraal Pannaigal Edhurpu Manadu”. A meeting to oppose shrimp farming. The villagers were residents of 15 villages around Killai who complained that shrimp aquaculture had turned their groundwater salty over the last 15 years and rendered all their drinking water sources unusable. The soil in these villages has turned so saline that groundnut and paddy, once harvested in plenty, no longer grow. The natural water holes, or oothu, from where they drew sweet potable water are now simply salt water springs. Making matters worse, the lush Pichavaram mangrove forests that garland the backwaters near Killai – a popular tourist attraction – are dying a slow death as a result of chemical waste from the shrimp farms. “At first we thought the shrimp farms would help


in the development of our village and provide us with jobs,” said N Ravichandran, a farmer from Radhavilagam village. “Only much later did we realise that our drinking water sources would be ruined.” The 1990s were boom time for shrimp farming in Tamil Nadu. But the business suffered in the wake of the 2004 tsunami – which caused widespread damage to the state and resulted in over 6,000 deaths – according to Senthil Babu of the Coastal People’s Rights Movement. Major importers, such as the United States and the European Union, cut down on import volumes citing high toxicity in shrimp bred in India. In the last few years, though, there has been a resurgence in shrimp aquaculture, Babu said. The business picked up with the introduction in 2009 of Litopenaeus vannamei or the white-leg shrimp in the country. Today, the vannamei shrimp accounts for 80% of all shrimp or prawn exports and close to half the shipment value of all outbound marine products, reported The Financial Express. Moreover, the export value of the variety has multiplied almost six times between 2011-’12 and 2015-’16, ac-

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