7th – 11th May 2008
“Save the Coast, Save the Fisher People”
With this slogan, the Machhimar Adhikar Rashtriya Abhiyan,national campaign for the rights of the fisher people, organized by the National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), entered Mumbai on 12 May 2008. The campaign led by NFF Chairperson Harekrishna Debnath along with a contingent of national leaders of fisherpeople like Rambhau Patil, N.D. Kohli, Narendra Patil, Matanhy Saldanha, Purnima Meher, Ramesh Dhuri and several other activists started in Jakhau, Kutch, Gujarat, on 1 May 2008. The Abhiyan will cover the entire coast of Indian mainland and reach Kolkata on 27 June 2008.
From 7th to 11th May the Abhiyan covered a large number of fishing villages and fish landing centres along the coast of south Gujarat and north Maharashtra before arriving at Mumbai on 12th May.
The Abhiyan held several public meetings and demonstrations in major fishing villages along the Gujarat seaboard such as Porbandar, Veraval, Mangrol, Dahez, Umbersari, Jambusar, Daman and Umbargaon before entering Maharashtra.
Irresponsible Industrialisation spawns criminalization.
The Abhiyan members encountered a shock of their lifetime at the fishing village of Punyadra in Varuch, Gujarat. 18 fishing villages in the region with around 20,000 population are threatened to extinction by massive industrialization, oil extraction wells and refineries as well as expansion of salt pans. Asked about their plight Ram Singh (name changed) from the village of Lakhigaon said that they have left fishing as there is no fish in the waters near their village. They now sleep in the day and work in the night. And that work is stealing. They sneak into the premises of the industries and grab scraps, left out machineries, tools and whatever can fetch them some money to live. Scars on their bodies bore testimonies of the beatings they frequently encounter at the hands of the security guards. The Abhiyan members were struck dumb by this story of criminalization of fishing community by irresponsible and destructive industrialization. A twenty square kilometer stretch of mangrove vegetation here has been destroyed by these industrial butchers and the government happily presided over.
The Abhiyan brings with it the flavours of the lives and struggles of the coastal peoples. Fisher folks who have joined the Abhiyan from Kutch, Gujarat, share their experiences of depletion of fish, pollution of waters and drastic drop in their incomes which corresponds to the large-scale displacement of traditional fisher peoples in coastal villages to set up industries and special economic zones (SEZ) along with the advent of hazardous and polluting industries along the coast. The Abhiyan strongly demands to the Gujarat government to immediately address the deep insecurity of coastal peoples.
The campaign demands that the proposed coastal management zone (CMZ) notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) be scrapped. It advocates the continuous implementation of existing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, and recognition of the rights of fisher peoples along the Indian seaboard.
Industrial pollution playing havoc to coastal and marine resources
From Porbandar to Daman the waters of south Gujarat are heavily polluted. The Abhiyan campaigners were horrified to witness degraded mangrove bushes standing on red waters. The fishers reported of frequent fish kills – millions of dead fish float in the near shore waters. The fishers of Daman led the Abhiyan members to the waters to show that the water had turned pinkish. There were reports that the effluents from the critically polluted industrial area of Ankaleswar are being discharged 10 kilometers into the sea through pipeline. Effluents from another critically polluted industrial area Vapi directly invade the waters in and around Daman. Gujarat, the state with the longest stretch of coast and largest fleet of fishing vessels in the country, is going to have a dead sea along its coast in near future.
Witnessing the pollution of coastal waters, the Abhiyan began with a ceremonial plantation of mangroves highlighting the inter-linkages of biotic and abiotic environment in fragile coastal ecosystems. Ironically, in shocking contrast to the SEZ’s, the fishing communities had poor access to drinking water, uncertain transport and almost no medical facilities.
It was distressing to note that the fisheries resources off the Saurashtra coast were fully depleted. The fishers, as a result, were venturing into deeper waters in pursuit of fish, which often landed them in Pakistani jails.
The fishing communities of Gujarat strongly protested against the letters of permission (LOP) issued by Government of India permitting foreign fishing in the Indian waters. They demanded all LOP’s to be cancelled with immediate effect.
At each meeting the fisherpeople and their leaders came up with spontaneous resolve to join the July march on Parliament in as many numbers as possible. They committed to pull whatever resources they had to join this nationwide struggle of the fishers.
NFF leaders and organizers of Maharashtra gave a rousing welcome to the Abhiyan at Jai village. Two carriages decorated with campaign hoardings and flags along with a number of vehicles joined the Abhiyan.
In Maharashtra, the campaign starting from Zai visited Dahanu, Dhakti Dahan, Varor, Dandi, Murbe, Satpati, Arnala, Vasai, Gorai and Manori and Mudh and Versova during 10th and 11th May. The Maharashtra leg of the Abhiyan was joined by Sri Mathany Saldhana, the first Chairperson of NFF and the leader of the only victorious anti-SEZ struggle in the country in Goa. In Gorai, the Abhayan was briefed about threats posed by Esselworld SEZ created for tourism of eviction of people from five villages predominantly inhabited by fisherpeople. The fishing communities were resisting these threats and they wanted the said SEZ to be scrapped. Here the Abhiyan was received by Smt. Medha Patkar, who was holding an anti SEZ convention for two days at Gorai.
An island with large fishing community to be sold out for entertainment SEZ !
The subservience of our government to commercial interests is once again betrayed by the proposed Esselworld SEZ at Gorai island near Mumbai. The island harbouring a large fishing community inhabiting several villages faces large scale eviction and loss of livelihood by the proposed acquisition of thousands of acres of land for an entertainment SEZ. Noel Kiny, one of the leaders of the movement said that the villagers were determined to fight to the last for their land and the country would witness another bloodbath in the event of any attempt of forcible eviction.