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Along Our Western Shores

Aubrey Wade photographs the coastal communities of Vapi and Aghanashini, India

Story by Namati May 20th, 2015

AGHANASHINI, KARNATAKA

The Aghanashini River is one of the last entirely free-flowing rivers in the World. Near the coast, the estuary’s beautiful and ecologically rich environment supports the livelihoods of local communities who fish, harvest clams and oysters, and depend on its precious ecosystem in myriad ways. This coast supports a rich variety of wildlife and has 16 species of mangroves, a uniquely highest diversity for mangrove forests.

A fisherman sets his nets at dawn on the Aghanashini River, Karnataka State, India.

The estuary is a zero investment industry. Every year it produces 22,000 tonnes of bivalves valued at Rs 58 million. 40% of the collectors and sellers are women.

A woman collects oysters from the tidal shallows in the estuary of the Aghanashini River
Jaivanth Gouda pauses before diving for clams in the estuary of the Aghanashini River
Women carry a basket of fish for salting along the Tadri jetty on the Aghanashini river

Coastal farming is also an integral part of this landscape. Farmers grow a special and flavourful salt resistant variety of rice, called Kagga.

Hema Gouda sits with and her mother Gange Gouda during the harvesting of the peanut crop
“I used to work as a clam collector, so I have a strong belief in the work and protecting it.”

- Maruti Gouda

Paralegals trained by Namati and the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) work with the Aghanashini community to establish a union of clam harvesters. Previously, clam harvesters were not recognized by the government as fishermen and therefore unable to join any union. This resulted in clam harvesters not being eligible for government compensation schemes in the event of death or injury at work.


“As a community we’ve been trying for more than 25 years to get government recognition of our rights to be recognized as fishermen and to form a union to protect our rights. Working with Namati and CPR, it’s taken just eight months of work to achieve the same thing.”
Maruti Gouda, a Namati and CPR paralegal, convenes a meeting of the Aghanashini clam harvester's union

There is a long history of large scale development proposals on the Aghanashini River. Most other rivers in the state, and much of its coastline, have not escaped environmental damage caused by poorly managed industrial development. Presently a large port, capable of handling seafaring container ships, is proposed for the estuary. If it goes ahead the required dredging and subsequent river traffic will disturb the river‘s delicate ecosystem and affect the livelihoods of the clam harvesters and many others who depend on it.Namati-CPR paralegals work with communities living along the river’s estuary to understand the full range of implications of the proposed development.

A retired fisherman looks towards the the Aghanashini River from a teashop on its banks
A fisherman rows his canoe up the Aghanashini River estuary

VAPI, GUJaRAT

Vapi, an industrial city on the south coast of Gujarat State, is ranked by the Indian government as one of the top four sites in the country with critically high pollution levels. There are as many as 700 small to medium scale chemical production plants in the city. Vapi’s environment is noxious. It is known as the ‘Armpit of India’.

Foam and algae float on water polluted by chemical waste as it enters the Daman River
A man launders clothes in water polluted by industrial plants running over the Madhuban dam, on the Daman

Much of the chemical waste finds its way into two nearby rivers, the Kolak and the Damanganga. A Common Effluent Treatment Plant is operated by the Vapi Industrial Association and monitored by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. Due to the plant’s low capacity and failure to properly treat the effluent before release, the water downstream runs black and supports no life.

Water heavily polluted by chemical waste enters the Daman River

The Billkhadi creek flows into the Kolak River carrying industrial chemical pollution from Vapi’s industrial development zone. Vapi is a growing city and residential developments can be seen sprouting up across the city. They have names like ‘New Palace Gardens‘ and ‘Sun Residency‘.

A residential development on the banks of the Billkhadi brook

Before the rise of chemical industries in Vapi most people in Kolak depended on fishing in the river’s estuary waters for their livelihoods. Catches are severely reduced and people worry about the safety of eating fish caught in the estuary’s polluted waters. Communities dependent on fishing in the estuaries have been forced to relocate or seek other means of securing their livelihoods.

A woman cleans fish for sale in Kolak village

Namati works with communities affected by chronic pollution to find remedies to their long standing impacts.

Manisha Goswami, a mother of two children and a Namati-CPR paralegal, works on cases with communities affected by pollution and helps authorities enforce environmental regulations such as the Pollution Acts and the Coastal Regulation Zone to tackle industrial pollution.


“My daughter’s asthma inspired me to take action initially, as a community activist. Now, working with Namati, we use an evidence based approach and use the Right to Information Act to access government data, such as compliance and monitoring reports.”

She seeks the enforcement of regulations by government authorities, especially the proper treatment of Vapi’s chemical industry’s waste water before its release into the Daman and Kolak rivers.

Manisha Gosuami, a Namati paralegal, stands amidst waste from the chemical industry in Vapi
“In the Kolak river case, where we are seeking compensation for two fishermen’s communities for damages caused by environmental destruction of the river’s estuary caused by untreated effluent from the chemical industries in Vapi, we have 10,000 fishermen who are signatories to the case.”
Villagers who are signatories to a petition brought by the Namati paralegals to the Gujurat state

The Daman river passes by a playground and the harbour at the river’s mouth. The water‘s colour is a result of pollution originating in Vapi‘s chemical industries.

Two boys fish their cricket ball out of the Daman river
Footnote: Photographs by Aubrey Wade for Namati - www.aubreywade.com
Aghanashini River, Karnataka State; and Vapi, Gujurat - India