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Shrimp farming at Chilika Lake, Odisha, India


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).

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Shrimp farming at Chilika Lake, Odisha, India
State or province:Odisha
Location of conflict:Chilika Lake
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Shrimps

Project Details and Actors

Project details

5000 MT (tonnes), five million kgs, of shrimp was produced in Chilika in 2013-14 (5). In 2010, IPS news service had reported, after renewed mortal clashes between villages,"Clashes over fishing rights in Chilka Lake have been escalating both in number and intensity, says Biswapriya Kanungo, legal adviser to Orissa-based Chilka Traditional Fishers’ Federation whose membership runs into thousands. “Skirmishes or serious encounters occur once a month on average,” he adds. Increasing population, overfishing, depleted fish stocks, and environmental degradation brought on by a host of factors, including siltation, as well as the advent of commercial prawn farming in and around Chilka, have all taken their toll on the lake and its rich biodiversity. The seriousness of the situation confronting the lake and its inhabitants has resulted in head-on clashes among the fishing villages. “The number of active fishermen has increased exponentially, so have fishing boats,” says Durga Prasad Das, chief functionary of Pallishree, a local environmental organisation. “The dispossession for Chilka’s traditional fishers began when the global export market discovered its prawn potential in the late 1980s.”

Project area:100,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000-200,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1990
Relevant government actors:Government of Orissa
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Meet the Students. Chilika Bachao Andolan. Chilika Matsayjibi Mahasangha

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Prohibit industrial shrimp farming and protect small scale fishing activity by protecting the fishing rights of the traditional fisher folks.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the 1996 Supreme Court verdict was in favor, the illegal shrimp industry continues to flourish, and there is constant clashes between the local fishermen who are losing their livelihoods and the shrimp mafia who with the help of politicians and bureaucrats are earning profits and becoming richer.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Supreme Court Verdict of 1996 banning all shrimp ponds near Chilika Lake

Chilika Fisheries Bill

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(1), (2) Information about the first industrial shrimp farming in Chilika in 1986, and the subsequent people's movement

Ecological Conflicts and Valuation - mangroves vs. shrimp in the late 1990s by Joan Martinez-Alier describing the global conflicts in shrimp industry

Information about the prawn mafia and the political economy of aquaculture in Chilika Lake.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(3) Information about the Chilika (Regulation of Fisheries) Bill, 2011 and how the illegal shrimp mafia still functions.

(4) Recent violent outbursts over shrimp ponds in 2015

Fishermen successful in deferring the Chilika Regulation and Fisheries Bill.

IPS, Inter Press Service. 15 June 2010. DEVELOPMENT: Violence Escalates Around India’s Largest Inland Lake. By Manipadma Jena

Other documents

Amount of Shrimp Produced in Chilika, and Orissa. Details about the fish production in Orissa till 2014.

Chilika lake fisherfolk in protest Source:

Chilika Bachao Andolan Local villagers protesting against illegal shrimp farming

Fishermen at Chilika Lake

Protests in Bhubaneswar Local fishermen protesting against the Chilika Fisheries Bill in front of the State Assembly in Bhubaneswar.

Meta information

Contributor:Brototi Roy, [email protected]
Last update11/06/2019



Fishermen at Chilika Lake


Protests in Bhubaneswar

Local fishermen protesting against the Chilika Fisheries Bill in front of the State Assembly in Bhubaneswar.

Chilika lake fisherfolk in protest