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Marine fishermen Uncertain Future!

Updated: August 6, 2011 2:15 pm

Due owing to periodic ban on fishing in the sea on account of turtle protection and conservation more than three lakh traditional marine fishermen living in 480-km-long stretch, spread over 284 fishing villages under six coastal districts of the state of Odisha, are living in uncertain future.

Coastal fishermen caught in duel conflict of conservation and livelihood restoration are up in arms now. Odisha, one of the largest fish-producing states, has been neglecting its fisher folk, allege the community leaders.

In Kendrapara district only at least seven fishermen have died attempting suicide and four others have been mentally disabled. All these happened because of the fishing ban on 65 km along Gahiramatha coast of the district, says Konda Alleya, General Secretary, Odisha Traditional Marine Fish Workers Union (OTFWU).

Not only this, thousands of marine fishermen of Ganjam, Puri and Jagatsinghpur have migrated to Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Hyderabad in search of livelihood. Fisher people of these districts are facing the wrath of local police and forest department officials because of the fishing ban along the coastal areas of Rushikuly, Devi and Jatadhari sea mouth and adjoining areas during breeding seasons of Olive Ridley Turtles and declaration of these areas “the marine sanctuary.”

While speaking to this correspondent W Simadri, a fisherman from Rushikulya Rookery in Ganjam, said, “It is the fisherman who protects and ensures safe passage of turtle hatchlings to sea; government agencies are only supervising.”

Simadri further added that though government spents crorers in the name of turtle conservation, the local community was not involved. They pay only Rs. 90 per day for two months to 10-20 persons of a fishing village of more than 300 families.

“It is pity to note that, government is shying away to recognise community conservation efforts, though thousands of fisher women and men are engaged in turtle conservation and protecting biodiversity of the area, their livelihood issues are not taken care”, says, Mangaraj Panda of Orissa Marine Resources Conservation Consortium (OMRCC-UAA).

In addition to this, land rights have been another critical area that has not been looked into by successive governments. Though they have been living in coastal areas, they have not been provided with land pattas of their ancestral land.

The never-ending agony of the coastal fishermen does not stop here. During rainy season especially from May to August, they are not allowed to venture into the sea owing to breeding. Government has announced this period as a Lean Session and to compensate fishermen a scheme called “Saving-cum-Relief” is in place to be financed by both central and state governments, but because of departmental apathy the scheme is not working well. In addition to this, on account of the turtle nesting and breeding, every year from November, to May 31, government has banned fishing. As a result, thousands of fishermen have been deprived of venturing into the sea for more than seven months in a year, thus living with an uncertain future and semi-starving condition.

To bail out, fishing communities from this vicious trap, Odisha Traditional Marine Fish Workers Union (OTFWU) had lodged a strong complaint with the CEC (Central Empowered Committee) formed by Hon’ble Supreme Court and CEC had recommended to compensate fishermen for that period. To implement this fisheries department had ordered through a letter vide no. 7fy-sch-30/2004, 10810, 14-7-2005. But still fishermen are not getting their due compensation

Apart from this, the major cause of concern for the coastal fishermen is fishing by unauthorised trawlers from Andhra, Bengal, Bangladesh and Thailand fishing in Odisha coast, violating Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, Orissa Maritime Fishing Regulation Act (OMFRA). But the government has been the silent spectator to all these violations. Though Union government has sanctioned Rs. 2 crore to construct two speed boats for patrolling inside the Sea and final amount of Rs. 32 lakh recently, there seems to be no headway on this.

Whereas, the government has fail in implement CRZ notification, they are now keen to implementing Coastal Management Zone (CMZ) and have allowed Special Economic Zones (SEZ), violating user access rights of traditional fishers and converting agriculture lands into other purposes to corporate/ multinational houses.

General problems like non-availability primary health services, malfunctioning of educational institutions, communication and transport facilities to marine fisher populous villages, legal rights of fisher people over their homestead land, insurance coverage of the productive assets of traditional fisher people by the government are not adequately taken care of.

In this regard, more than 7000 marine fishermen had staged a three day-long dharna and a rally during last year’s assembly session from 21to 23 November to press for their demand. Fortunately, state fisher minister had the visited dharna and had assured the delegates to solve the problem of traditional fisher people. Before that Minister and fisher secretary had lengthy discussion with the union leaders. But since then nothing has been done concrete yet.

Therefore, OTFWU has warned the government to immediately look into the genuine demands of thousands of marine fishermen, otherwise they will be forced to resort seizure of illegal trawlers and declared that the organisation and marine fisher people will go on strike.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Bhubaneswar

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