Jamnagar District, Gujarat
3rd May 2008
Public Meeting at Rupen Bandar
The Machhimar Adhikar Rashtriya Abhiyan caravan was received in Dwarka on 3rd May in the morning by the fishing community of Rupen Bandar under the leadership of eminent Gandhian social reformer Prof. D. S. Ker.
Rupen Bandar is the largest fish landing centre of Jamnagar District of Gujarat. Situated on two sides of a creek that leads to the sea Rupen Bandar is a long stretch of shanties on land with no municipal facilities though situated within the Dwarka town. In the water it has a spread out agglomeration of thousands of small boats without any docking facility.
About one thousand fisher men and women from the fishing villages around Rupen Bandar gathered at the public meeting. The participation of women was remarkable.
Professor Ker welcomed the arrival of the Abhiyan at Dwarka and asked the fisherpeople to speak about their problems so that those could be taken up by the Abhiyan.
24 fishers, men and women, narrated their plight. The main problems faced by them were:
¨ Rupen Bandar has no jetty, landing facility, shade or toilet.
¨ There is no drinking water, electricity or sanitation system in the fishing villages.
¨ There is no school or health care facility.
¨ The fishers have no legal right on the land on which they live and work for generations.
¨ There is no fish market, they have to vend on the road. Four years back the municipality demolished the fish market near Nageswar Mandir and no alternative was provided. Lack of a proper market with space, shade, water and toilet worse affects the women fishworkers.
¨ TATA chemicals factory on the coast encroach on their access to sea and pollute the waters.
¨ Police torture is another big problem faced by the fishers here. The police arbitrarily impose restriction on fishing, arrest fishers, confiscate their catch, harass and take money from them.
¨ Kerosene is another big problem. They require at least 300 litres of kerosene per boat per month, but get only about 135 litres.
¨ Ilias Bhai, the leader of Vet Dwarka fising village, expressed apprehension of imminent displacement by the proposed extension of Okha jetty. There will be no space left for parking small boats.
NFF national leaders said that from Gujarat to West Bengal everywhere the fisherpeople were facing the same problems. On top of these the CZM, letter of permits (LOPs) to foreign fishing vessels and mushrooming SEZs were going to impart the death blow to the coast and the fishers. The Abhiyan has been launched to thwart these attacks. They spoke of the many struggles of fisherpeople conducted under NFF and urged the fishers to unite and fight for the protection of the coast and their livelihood.
Harekrishna Debnath exclaimed if the fishers were not the citizens of India! How even after 60 years of independence the fishers do not have basic rights to their lives and livelihood guaranteed by the constitution. He pointed to the paradoxical behaviour of the government that generously doles out subsidies and concessions to big companies on land electricity, water, tax etc. while the bare minimum livelihood requirements of the fishers are being systematically denied. Shri Debnath pointed that fishing is a “zero investment industry” for the government which give employment to millions of fishworkers. The fishers work on their own and feed the country with cheap protein contributing thousands of crores to the GDP. The country earns thousands of crores of rupees in foreign currency from export of fish. Yet they are treated like sub-human beings. Now the time has come to claim redemption. He urged every fisher to join the fight and asked them to send as many people as possible for the Delhi march on parliament in July 2008.
At the end of the meeting Professor Ker thanked NFF for taking up the cause of fishworkers. He himself committed to join the march on parliament.
After the meeting the local fisher men and women thronged the NFF Chairperson. Tears rolled down their eyes. They said that for the first time in their lives they were witnessing an organization to take up their cause. They promised to pull whatever resources they had and join the July march on parliament. Some of them joined the Abhiyan caravan and proceeded to the next meeting place at Gandhvi Bandar at Harsiddh.
Public Meeting at Gandhvi Bandar
The situation at Gandhvi Bandar at Harsiddh was very grim when the Abhiyan reached there in the afternoon. Haniff, a young fisherman died only a few hours back the boat carrying him and three others capsized while sailing out. The villagers lamented that the accident would not have happened if there was a fishing jetty.
Gandhvi Bandar has more than 200 fisher families and about 150 small boats mainly with out board motors.
Story here was very much the same. No drinking water, no electricity, no road, no sanitation, no school, no medical facility. No legal right over the land on which they live and work. They said that there is a kerosene quota of 250 litres a month but they hardly get more than 100 to 110 litres. They complained that earlier there was a 33% subsidy on engines and nets bought by the fishers, but now there is none. They were astonished to know that there is governmental provision of life isurance coverage for the fishers. There was no local fish market, all the catch had to be taken to Porbandar. Non availability of ice and absence of road affected marketing and they did not get fair price.
The meeting here was attended by about 200 fisher men and women. Ismail Bhai, Hazi Abdullah, Gafur Bhai of the local fishing community spoke in the meeting. Mohammed Isha and Ismail Bhai from Rupen Bandar described what the Abhiyan meant for the fishing people and why they have joined it.
Fatema Bibi, who accompanied the Abhiyan from Rupen Bandar, spoke of the plight of the fisherwomen. She urged all to stand up and fight under the banner of NFF.
NFF national leaders Shri Narendra Patil, Shri Ramesh Dhuri, Smt. Purnima Meher addressed the meeting.
NFF Chairperson Harekrishna Debnath led a mass prayer in condolence of the departed fisher Hanif Bhai. He said that the fisherpeople should at least know what they have achieved through years of struggle. He spoke of the subsidy on kerosene, engine and nets. He also informed the fishers of the insurance coverage. He asked the fishers to send a letter giving out their grievances which NFF can take up with the government. But the only guarantee to get their dues resided in their unity and struggle. Shri Debnath urged the fishers to join the march on parliament to claim their dues which have been denied for years.
The fishers spontaneously assured that every household will contribute to send their representatives to the Delhi march.
After the meeting the Abhiyan left for Porbandar at 6.30 in the evening. At Porebandar the Abhiyan was received by Shri Manish Bhai Lodhari and Shri Babu Bhai Panjiri of Shree Porbandar Machhimar Boat Association.