The Chilika Lake, which is the largest brackish water lagoon in India, had been a steady source of livelihood for the poor (scheduled caste) people residing in more than 100 fisher hamlets surrounding the lake in the districts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam of Odisha for decades. During the late 1980s the boom in the worldwide shrimp industry due to a rise in demand of shrimp exports to United States of America, Japan and European countries was seen as a golden opportunity for Indian industrialists and politicians to increase their foreign exchange earnings. In 1986, the government of Odisha entered into an agreement with the TATA to open a large aquaculture unit named Tata Aquatic Farm Ltd. to lease 1400 hectares of land in Chilika for prawn cultivation for a period of 15 years. The government had 10 % share in the deal which was opposed by the Janta Dal. However, when the party Janta Dal came into power in 1989, it merely changed the name of the farm into Chilika Acquatic Farms Ltd and increased the share of govt to 49%.The entire output of the farm was to be processed and exported. The annual turn over from the farms was to be of RS. 3000 lakhs which was to be in foreign exchange (1).
The local people were mobilized with the initial help of Meet the Students (MTS), a group of radical youth from Utkal University at Bhubaneswar who regularly visited the fishing villages and spoke to the people to make them more aware of the issues that the shrimp industry would bring to them. They also took steps to involve the Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha, a mass organisation of 122 revenue villages in Chilika, which works towards the protection of interests of the fishermen. The Chilika Bachao Andolan (CBA) was formally launched in January 1992 to work as an extension of Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha in the areas adjacent to the project to spearhead the movement (2).
Over the years, the conflict gained a broader spectrum and from just protests and strikes, they turned violent, where the local people broke the embankment of the project, and in return were beaten and jailed by the police.
The movement did help to bring a Supreme Court verdict in its favor in 1996 when it was stated that all the shrimp farms within a 1000m from Chilika Lake must be destroyed. However, despite the verdict, the shrimp farming continues to flourish in the area. The protests of local people have only results in violence, the worst of which was in 1999 when 4 protesters, including a woman was killed during the protest.
Another area of environmental injustice is the proposed Chilika (Regulation of Fisheries) Bill, 2011 which has been pending for 10 years, following opposition from local fishermen. It was first proposed in 2001 and has provisions to make the illegal shrimp farmer get legal status and thus promoting non-traditional fishing in the lake. This further shows evidence of the unholy nexus between bureaucrats, politicians and the prawn mafia (3).
Even today, the issues are as unresolved as they were two decades ago, and the fishermen are still losing their livelihoods, the environment is being polluted and the protests remain unheard (4).