The fish vendors from Loop road near Marina beach in Chennai are up in arms against the proposed eviction drive by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) as part of its beautification plan. The members affiliated to Tamil Nadu Fishermen Association (TNFA)—which is affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)—held a street corner meeting in Nochikuppam on Monday, opposing GCC’s plan. They also demanded that the GCC build shops on Loop road itself to protect the livelihoods of the fish vendors.
The fisherfolk accused the GCC of under-representing the plight of the community in the Madras High Court, which led to a court order allowing eviction of the vendors in order to beautify the Marina beach.
PROTECT AS PER STREET VENDORS ACT
The TNFA has sought protection for the fisherfolk as per the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. The vendors claimed that the community has been selling fish in the area for over half a century and have registered with the cooperative society as well. The Act mandates retention of vending zone if the business is being carried out for over 50 years.
R Loganathan, a leader from the TNFA, told NewsClick, “The judgement of the court goes against the rights the street vendors are entitled to as per the act of the government. The order to remove the vendors from the place where they have been doing business for more than 50 years is unjust.
The court has also permitted use force if the vendors do not vacate the spot within six months. The court also opined that the beach should not be a place for vendors; it should be for the tourists.
LIVELIHOOD AT STAKE
The vendors—consisting majority of women—belong to more than 11 fishing villages around the marina beach. With the court ordering their removal, the livelihood of hundreds of vendors and their families is at stake.
“The court has also instructed the GCC to beautify the beach by removing the vendors, but is not worried about their livelihood. There are other street vendors making their living by selling goods at the beach. With the order, they also face the threat of eviction,” Loganathan added.
The construction of the Loop road was completed in 2017, but the fish market, vendors claim, has existed for several decades.
STOP PRO-CORPORATE POLICIES
The vendors demanded in the meeting that the GCC build shops, storage and other necessary facilities in the Loop road area itself instead of building a new market at a faraway place. They also accused the GCC administration and police of trying to remove them forcefully. They have registered their opposition to the Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2019 as well.
The bill prevents fishing beyond 12 nautical miles, issues licences for fishing and has made provisions for heavy penalties for violation of rules formulate by the bill. The fisherfolk have accused the central government of framing policies in favour of the corporates.
“The regulations as per the bill will certainly affect the fishing community and favour the corporate companies. If they are permitted to use huge ships and trawlers, the catch would be large, depleting the resources in a very short time. We demand the central government to withdraw the bill and save the fishing community,” said Loganathan.
PROJECT FISHING COMMUNITY
The meeting also demanded formation of a separate ministry for fisheries at the central government, as promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the election campaign in 2014. The party had made tall promises to the fishing community of the state, but nothing has been implemented even though the BJP has won a second mandate in the 2019 general elections.
The fishing community remembers the loss of seven lives in police firing in 1985 when the then state government had tried to evict them from the marina beach. The fishermen and vendors accuse the present state and union governments of planning to evict them forcefully from their homeland in the name of beautification and regulatory norms.