In Focus

Aqua farmers in the country are oscillating between despair and hope. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court (SC) dashed their hopes when it dismissed petitions seeking a review of its December 1996 judgement ordering closure of aqua farms in the coastal zone. Owners of over 2,000 aqua farms as well as the fisheries department of Andhra Pradesh had sought a review of the apex court's order banning aquaculture within 500 m of the high tide zone in coastal areas, as they were polluting the sea coast. The petitioners had pleaded that they had obtained approval from pollution control boards before establishing the farms.

With the latest ruling, all aquaculture industries and shrimp culture ponds operating in the coastal regulation zone face demolition by the end of March. The court also directed the police and district authorities of the areas concerned to implement the court's order and file compliance reports before April 15. Most of these farms are located in the prohibited coastal regulation zones in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and the Union territory of Pondicherry.

The Union minister of commerce, B B Ramaiah, recently assured aqua farmers that the Centre will take steps to convince the SC that aquaculture was far less polluting and initiate steps to effectively revive aquaculture practices within the country. He said that he had already directed the cabinet secretary to formulate a plan of action, adding that a legislation to include aquaculture among the activities exempted from such restrictions was under consideration.

Meanwhile, authorities are gearing up to carry out the SC's order. Aqua farmers in Andhra Pradesh recently held a protest rally against the proposed demolition and are planning to intensify their agitation in phases.

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