In which we share a map…

by Vineetha Venugopal

The importance of coastal commons such as beach spaces, sand dunes, mud flats etc. to fishing communities can’t be overstated. They rely on these spaces for keeping and mending boats and nets, catching prawns and crabs, and having community gatherings. Despite this, the value of these spaces is often ignored by the state while making executive and policy decisions on coastal development. Sometimes even people living in hinterland villages and towns adjacent to fishing hamlets are unaware of fishers’ relations with these spaces. To remedy this oversight,  the Communities and Resource Governance Programme at Dakshin started a participatory mapping initiative in Purnabandha fishing village in Ganjam. Our efforts were inspired by a mapping exercise undertaken by fisher groups in Chennai who recorded uses of coastal areas and commons, using this tool to fight back coastal grab. 

We (the research team consisted of me – Keralite, distinctly non Odia-speaking, and Biswa, born and brought up in Odisha and happily Odia-speaking) discussed our proposal with the village committee (traditional governing body in the fishing village) leaders. They were quite enthusiastic about it, and we co-developed a simple questionnaire via interactions with the community. The community leaders proposed that they will point out areas of importance that the research team can map using GPS. We completed the mapping in March 2020, and spent some of our lockdown time also working from Bangalore to create a GIS map showing common areas and their uses, revenue details, and the coastal regulation zones. 

We returned to the field again in March 2021 and met with a few community leaders and handed over the map to them. The leaders pointed out four common spaces that we missed on the map, and we agreed to update the map including those spaces and their uses. The highlight of the handover was when a young student from the community expressed interest in the map and gave us suggestions on improving it. He even looked up the land category/ ownership details corresponding to the plot numbers of ‘common’ lands from the Odisha land record website. The women leaders were also happy with the map and made suggestions for using the common areas close to the village temple. 

While in Odisha, we met K. Allaya, leader of Odisha Traditional Fish Workers’ Union. Allayaji, while appreciative of the mapping effort, highlighted concerns regarding expansion of the contentious blue flag certification to new beaches and lack of consultation and ground-truthing on creating Odisha’s Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) using satellite surveys. He proposed that Dakshin conduct a two-day workshop for fisher leaders in Odisha on participatory mapping, CRZ/CZMP and government schemes relevant for fishing communities. He also mentioned that the activities of OTFWU are quite constrained by the lack of funds. Since the union members themselves are financially struggling, travel allowance and food at the very minimum must be provided. We need to take these realities of our field partners also into account and find ways to support them.

It was good to meet Mangaraj Panda, our long standing partner in Odisha, this time too. He is incidentally also a member of the Odisha Coastal Zone Management Authority. Mangaraj ji has been a great support to us from the beginning of the project. He gave us feedback on the project and pointed out some translation issues that we missed. We had literally translated a coastal zone name –  ‘No Development Zone’ to Odia and caused some inadvertent confusion! Mangaraj ji was of the opinion that we need a coordinated campaign like that of Tamil Nadu to have the uses of coastal commons recognized in the Odisha CZMP. We left, pleased with having visited the field after a long time and with the hope that the CRG team is in a place to continue this work now that so many from the community see value in it.  

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