New Delhi: The Union Budget’s proposals seek to push big time privatisation across sectors, from railways to the national ports.
One sector, where privatisation is sure to impact livelihoods in a big way is fisheries and marine farming, wherein the Centre proposes to develop five major fishing harbours – Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Petuaghat -- as hubs of economic activity. “We will also develop inland fishing harbours and fish-landing centres along the banks of rivers and waterways,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget speech.
Inland fisheries include all rivers, canals, floodplain lakes, high altitude lakes, ponds, wetlands, tanks, reservoirs, brackish water, all saline and alkaline affected areas of the country.
However, not only the Budget proposals but the draft Fisheries Policy 2021, for which the window of suggestions invited closes this week, have not gone down well with fisherfolk who fear that all resources of inland fisheries, like rivers, canals, or ponds, would eventually be leased out to private parties, hitting the livelihoods of lakhs of people dependent on the marine sector.
Across India, fisheries associations have, therefore, been protesting the Budget proposals as well as the proposed reforms in the draft Fisheries Policy 2021.'
Fishermen’s unions and associations have been highlighting that the Central government’s proposed policy has looked at the industry only from a profit-making commercial point of view, aimed at generating corporate interest in the seas, pushing fisherfolk to the brink of poverty. They fear that the policy would pave the way for the collapse of traditional fishing methods and reduce state autonomy as well.
According to the notification, the government will take control of all resources of inland fisheries like rivers, canals, or ponds, which will be leased out to private parties. As a result, these common resources will no longer be will have limited rights and control over natural resources, pushing them further into doing migrant labour, say some experts.
The draft policy aims to “enhance fishing” in all these areas, including high-altitude lakes in the north and north-eastern parts of India, and wetlands and reservoirs in protected areas.
The policy also proposed to reduce the jurisdiction of states to 12 nautical miles, beyond which control will lie with the Centre, said critics of the policy, hinting at yet another move toward centralisation of power.
The proposed policy document states, “Government of India is responsible for the development, management and regulation of fisheries in the EEZ waters beyond 12 nautical miles and up to 200 nautical miles (370 km). Therefore, it is imperative that the Center effectively manages and regulates this common property resource for its sustainable and responsible utilization in close collaboration with States.”
Critics hold that this will lead to diversion of power in the hands of the Centre, which will further enable activity in this region by private players as the draft policy states that, “states will develop comprehensive leasing and licensing policy for all public water bodies with due priority to local fishing communities and their cooperatives, fisheries professionals /trained entrepreneurs while respective agencies may continue to retain trusteeship/custodial rights of these resources.
Traditional and small-scale fishers will be restricted to these territorial waters, with new licencing laws and heavy capital limiting their reach.
Speaking with NewsClick, Olencio Simoes, of Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, a Goa-based traditional fishermen’s association, said: “This is a betrayal of what has been asked of the government from the past 20 years and we shall fight it to the nail. Marine and inland fishing is being clubbed together, to show that there are no fishermen in the marine sector, the privatisation attempts are ignoring the traditional fishermen. They are focusing on deep sea fishing, motherboard fishing, It looks like an attempt to displace this fishing community of India to promote mechanised fishing.”
The draft policy further combines all components of the Indian fisheries sector into a single document, which the government claims will lead to an environment for increasing sectoral investment, double exports, and incomes of fishermen.
However, Jackson Pollayil of Kerala Swathanthra Malsyathozhiali Federation, said: “If we go deep into the draft policy, we have objections. We are against promoting commercial ports. We are against corporate culture since it would affect traditional fishermen. Trawling ban is used to impose as per the monsoon timing. Now the government has decided to impose a trawling ban at the same time across the states. This is unscientific. It affects traditional fishermen, it is about giving an upper hand to players, who do not understand our communities or our work.”
In recent years, fish production in India has had an average annual growth rate of 7%. The share of the fisheries sector was 1.03% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017-18, and the sector has been one of the major contributors of foreign exchange.