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Ganesh Govekar, chairman, Verona Patramon Tenants Association, Chorao

Sluice gates: Worth the trouble

Sluice gate fishing was, and still is, a huge source of revenue to tenant farmers, and the high bid that each gate fetches is proof that this method of catching fish in shallow water is popular and worth the trouble, writes MICHAEL FISHER

Sluice gates are simple mechanism devised centuries ago to not just maintain flow of saline water into and out of rivers but trap fish as well. Though this system still exists and is a good source of revenue for tenant farmers, it does not work as well as in the past.

A huge quantity of fish and prawns are trapped in the shallow waters. They breed in ponds and rivulets winding its way to rivers blocked by sluice gates. In many cases the fish catch, say mamlatdars, fetches the lessee of the sluice gates a tidy sum. However, on the sad-side of the coin, hundreds of hectares of khazan land have been destroyed on account of faulty sluice gates releasing more than the required water for the fields thus destroying paddy crop.

Sluice gates, which can command over Rs 40 lakh in auction bidding, are built to automatically open and close during high and low tides. In the rainy season, the first few showers dilutes the salinity in the water which collects in the paddy fields and is made suitable for cultivating korgut and azgo paddy varieties. No fertilizers are used since the silt from the rivulets, which shifts into the fields due to tidal action, is rich in humus, a natural organic fertilizer.

After the kharif season the land is left fallow, especially the land near the river side, and the lands away from the river shore is used for cultivating vegetables. Tiswadi and Salcete are two such examples.

In 1964, the Goa Government enacted the Goa Daman and Diu law on Agriculture Tenancy Act, says retired assistant account officer Ganesh Govekar, who is now the chairman of Verona Patramon Tenants Association in Chorao.

In this Act, the government noted the land for agriculture cultivation. The land had two types of soil: Khazan covered by saline water that cultivates Korgut paddy, while Morod and Kher land is suitable for high-yielding seeds such as Jyoti, Jaya and others.

In the course of time, the communidade neglected repairs of the bunds, sluice gates and the paddy fields for want of funds. During the Portuguese era, the communidade was maintaining the bunds and sluice gates, says Govekar who is now into farming.

In the past, the cost of maintenance was the responsibility of the communidade. It would recover the cost from the tenants through a share of the produce or in cash. Now the enforced 1964 Act puts an end to the contribution to the communidade. It is now the responsibility of farmers and tenants to maintain the bunds and sluice gates in accordance with the Act. But what followed was negligence by the tenants and farmers.

Then the government enacted another law – Goa Daman and Diu Agriculture Tenancy Act (joint responsibility of tenants) – thereby enforcing farmers to maintain the bunds and sluice gates. The tenants needed money for maintenance work, so a provision was made in the Act to auction the sluice gates.

While river tributaries formed rivulets which in turn create khazan land, the function of the sluice gate is to maintain and regulate the water level of incoming and outgoing to the paddy fields. The sluice gates consist of two parts: doors and smaller doors called sarad which act as levers. The sarad’s function is to maintain the required height of the water in the sluice gates which often rises higher than two metres. The regulation of the sarad helps fish and prawns to breed and rear in the rivulets. As the fish and prawns try to escape in low tide it gets trapped at the sluice gates and is harvested.

Every 15 days in a month or at the time of the full moon and new moon the catch fetches a fortune. Glad for some, but unhappy for many farmers, the poor functioning of the sluice gates has destroyed many paddy fields.

The Act also states how fishing rights are given to the needy fishermen. In accordance with the guidelines in the Act, the process of auction is followed whereby 15 days notice is to be published in the local newspapers. The auction is conducted in the presence of a representative of the mamlatdar along with committee members of the tenant association.

The period for the sluice gate bid winners is normally fixed from January 1 to December 31 every year. The fishing rights are given to the highest bidder which may go beyond Rs 40 lakh: that is the potential of some sluice gates. Some sluice gates churn out crores of rupees for the bidder, says a mamlatdar.

The auction money from the bidders goes towards fishing rights and is utilised for the cost of maintenance of the bunds and related works of the sluice gates, says Govekar.

The wooden sluice gates are replaced every two to three years and the cost of building a sluice gate can go beyond Rs 1.5 lakh depending on the size and type of wood used. Specialized carpenters are called for this job.

For all related repair works the tenants association gets 50 per cent subsidy. There are two options: one if the government undertakes the work then it bears 90 per cent of the cost and the balance 10 per cent is paid by the tenants in kind or adjusted from the subsidies. The second option is if the association undertakes the work, the cost is divided between the association and the government. But the estimate is prepared by the Soil Conservation Department under the Director of Agriculture Department.

High tide and incessant rains create strong waves that damage the bunds. Often the cost of repairs goes into lakhs of rupees and it is beyond the repair capacity of the tenants, so the Director of Agriculture Department and Soil Conservation Division is informed to conduct the estimates of the damages.

As per the Tenancy Act, the mamlatdar is the administrator and has to notify the ` bund’ as `external’ and issues necessary guidelines to the soil conservation division to work out the estimates for getting the subsidy. If the estimates run into several lakhs the work is tendered by the government. During this period fishing and prawn netting is stopped.

In the past, people other than village tenants used to take part in the auction bids and they would not pay the full proceeds from the auction. This practice has been stopped, and presently association members and their heirs are allowed to participate in the auction bidding to safeguard tenants’ interest.

It has been suggested that if the government would like to encourage cultivation on khazan lands lying idle and the work towards repairs and maintenance of the bunds and sluice gates, then top priority should be given to construct concrete retaining walls in respect of the bunds that are directly exposed to the force of river waves.

Simultaneously, it is essential to build an approach road for easy access through the khazan lands without disturbing paddy fields. Out of the 126 farms in Chorao Island, 95 per cent is occupied on communidade land, according to Govekar.

In Salcete, all sluice gates are managed by the farmers association, says Joseph Vaz, chairman of the Tenant Association of Vodlem Orah (Tavo), which is the biggest association in Rachol. “The tenants associations have the capacity to take care of the sluice gates business and cultivation of khazan fields. Most of the these lands along River Zuari have their own sluice gates controlled by the tenants association and are operated either through an auction or lease concession to the highest bidder,” he says.

The khazan fields by nature are organic and do not need fertilisers. The function of the sluice gates for water to come in and go out is very essential for the paddy fields, which helps farmers to safeguard their fields from growth of unwanted weeds which comes in the way of ploughing.

In another development, saline water in the paddy fields, which shifts to the khazan ponds, becomes a natural breeding ground for varieties of fish including prawns. The fishes and prawns are trapped in the operation of the sluice gates. And in this process the association makes appropriate earnings from the auctioning of the sluice gates, says Vaz. There are eight sluice gates in Rachol, Raia and Carmolim villages.

He says the proceeds collected by auction is partly distributed to the farmers/tenants as dividend, which often works out to Rs 5,000 per annum. This money is utilised by the farmers for the maintenance of their sluice gates, bunds and part of the money is used for developing the paddy fields, he says.

From Loutolim to Borim, the tenants have kept the sluice gates to dry during the summers. They function only in the monsoon. These fields are mixed with both saline and sweet water. In many cases the auctioning fetches over Rs 25 lakh.

To bring these fields back to production level, the government in its 2015-16 agri-budget is introducing crab culture for those farmers whose paddy fields have been severely affected.

Under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) scheme, says Director of Agriculture Department Orlando Rodrigues, the government has approved Rs 150 crore for repairs and maintenance of bunds, de-silting of ponds and constructing of access roads to fields to facilitate farmers to continue enough cultivating kurgut varieties and will distribute free seeds.

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