On poll eve, fishers cast a wide net of hopes

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A separate ministry for fisheries at the Centre tops the charter of demands

Vaddy fishing village seems quite abuzz as the morning sun beats down on the beach. Many fishermen have returned after their midnight sortie and stand huddled together discussing a bad catch and a wicked weather. Inside the colony are other groups engaged in animated chatter, the Lok Sabha polls often dominating the conversation.

As 64-year-old Thresya launches into her favourite refrain, “whichever party comes to power we are left to rot”, for the third time, Jaya intervenes. “Our situation has changed over the years, we have liveable homes now and our kids go to college. We still look forward to a lot of changes, but no, we are not a very miserable lot,” she says.

Lal, a union member, is quick to agree. “You are getting subsidy for kerosene, your pension has doubled and the State government is now offering interest-free loans as well. You have no right to complain,” he says. But there are still murmurs about yet-to-start housing projects and infrastructure issues.

Neglect alleged

The boat operators at Neendakara have a different story, insisting that both the State and the Centre have been neglecting them for long.

“The mechanised sector has been struggling for a while and the hike in diesel price has thrown us into a crisis. This is a larger industry providing livelihood for many and contributing a major share of the exports. We want these issues to be addressed,” says All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association president Peter Mathias.

The mechanised sector is equally unhappy over the newly introduced hike in the amount for registration, deposit, and annual licence of fishing boats. “Kerala is the only marine State that has imposed a 10-fold rise in fee, making it all the more difficult for us to survive. Also, the government should issue life-saving equipment to the fishermen working in the mechanised sector as well,” he adds.

But both the traditional and mechanised sectors are in agreement when it comes to their common demand — a separate ministry for fisheries at the Centre as the sector is now attached to a string of departments in various ministries, including Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.

“It is an uphill task for fishers to get their voice heard at the Centre,” says general secretary of the AKFBOA Joseph Xavier Kalapurakal.

Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedhi president Charles George says the fishing community in Kerala stood united in getting the Meena Kumari Committee recommendations rolled back.

“It was a great success. However, subsequent measures by the Union government reflected its vengeance on the fishers in the State, which includes the virtual rejection of the Ockhi rehabilitation package,” he says.

Leaders of the National Fishworkers Forum say they have already prepared a memorandum that will be submitted to the candidates from all political parties across the Indian coastal belt.

Drop CRZ relaxations

“Apart from the formation of a new ministry, we want the government to withdraw the recently introduced relaxations in the Coastal Regulation Zone. It is nothing but an attempt to help corporates in the tourism and construction sectors. The government should also reconsider the proposed shipping channel since it will affect the livelihood of traditional fishers. Also, they should consult the fishing community before moving forward with the new mariculture policy,” says T.Peter, forum general secretary.

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