The White Desert of Kutch in Gujarat, tourism and natural resources

Friday, 20 December 2013

Every year, on the borders of the great White Desert in the northern Khutch, in Gujarat, a gigantic ethnic festival is organized. It attracts hundreds of thousands of Indian tourists. The large region of Kutch is the home for several ethnic minorities and its tribal villages are renowned for the handicrafts made of the most beautiful and varied metals, jewellery, textiles and pottery. However, the situation in many villages is of extreme poverty. Tradition is exploited in order to motivate tourism which actually does not bring any benefit to the local population if not through intermediaries. In some villages, such as Khavda, the producers are able to export their products all over India at a fair price, but the situation is very different in others. The big White Desert. This inhospitable salty lowland, rich in natural gas, was one scene of perennial border disputes between India and Pakistan that, in April 1965, contributed to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. The Little Rann of Kutch is known for its traditional salt production and various references mention this to be a 600-year-old activity.


During the British period, this activity increased. It was used to fund a substantial part of the military expenses of the British government. Communities involved in salt production are mainly Chunvaliya Koli, Ahir and Miyana (Muslim), residing in 107 villages in the periphery of Lesser Rann of Kutch. These communities are traditionally known to have the skills of salt production and are known as ‘Agariyas’. Water quality in 107 villages of Lesser Rann of Kutch is saline, thus agriculture is not an option. Hence, salt production is the only livelihood option for Agariyas.Today there are 45000 Agariyas working in the salt pans of Kutch. The traditional extraction techniques, as well as those for mining, date back to a time before the industrial age. They do not devastate the environment, are limited to the needs of the local population. When taken over by a company that must export all over the world, in addition to the destructive techniques, the extraction intensifies up to the collapse.





© 2014 Marco Palladino – all rights reserved


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