03 March, 2021

Brackish Waters

They were the salt of the earth once. An ossified Act has taken their land, left them worthless.

Abhijit Bhatlekar
Brackish Waters
Rupees nil per acre. That's the money 70 families in the Uran region off Mumbai got in compensation for their saltworks land—all of 3,000-plus acres. The year was 1974 and the acquisition was made by the Maharashtra government for the Jawaharlal Nehru Port project (JNPT). And the law that made it possible: the Salt Act of 1870.

Mahatma Gandhi's Dandi March to break the draconian Salt Act is a part of our collective pride, one recently re-enacted with people coming from all over to participate. But the Act itself was actually never repealed. These 70 families, along with the labourers that worked there and several others who depended on allied activity—totalling over a lakh people—have been living under its dark shadow now for over 30 years.

How did the government make the "acquisition"? One, under the Salt Act of 1870, all saltworks land was deemed belonging to the Crown and, therefore, vested in the Crown. This got automatically transferred to the Union of India in 1950. Two, under Rule 37 of the Bombay Land Revenue Rules of 1944, land under the high water mark...

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