GEJ Series | A supercyclone, landscapes of “emptiness” and shrimp aquaculture: the lesser-known trajectories of disaster recovery in coastal Odisha, India

20th November 2023

Vasudha Chhotray – UEA DEV


This paper examines the construction of Ersama, a block in coastal Odisha in India, as a space rendered ‘empty’ and ‘unproductive’ after the devastating supercyclone of 1999, paving the way for the introduction of highly precarious shrimp aquaculture by a coalition of interests drawn both from the state and private shrimp exporting companies. Through long-term research over ten years, the paper documents how disaster recovery becomes the business of ‘entrepreneurial’ citizens resulting in the dangerous normalisation of risk as well as new forms of differentiation and exclusion for poor small and marginal cultivators living in an area with recurrent cyclones. This is a story about how the state depoliticises disasters through narratives of improvement applied to ‘wastelands’ characteristic both of colonial rule and postcolonial development regimes, including in India. In an era of climate change, the paper argues, this amounts to a serious abdication of state responsibility.