Bengal: Fishers Worried Over Livelihood Losses if Tajpur Deep Sea Port Materialises
Dadanpatrabhar: Dadanpatrabhar, a village in West Bengal located about 175 km from Kolkata, has a fishing harbour that provides employment to approximately 10,000 fishermen in the area. They go out to the ocean in small boats and return to the shore in the evening to offer their catch for auction, which happens twice a day. The proposed Tajpur port project on the coast of Bay of Bengal is expected to take over the entire fishing harbour and 2,000 acres of land, which was previously occupied by Bengal Salt -- a salt-producing company that lost its market share due its coarse produce and is now closed.
Srikanta Das, president of the fishermen’s union of the fishing harbour and an executive committee member of Dakshin Banga Matsajibi Forum, an organisation opposing the setting up of the Tajpur port, expressed concern that the new port would lead to the loss of 350,000 indirect jobs related to fish trade in the area.
Das told NewsClick that while 25,000 new jobs are proposed to be created, most fishermen in the area are not trawler owners but small boat owners. Large vessels entering the shoreline would create waves that small boats cannot withstand, resulting in them capsizing in the sea.
He also noted that the proposed port would not offer any new jobs to fishermen, who have expertise in the fishing trade for generations. “The coastal areas of West Bengal would suffer job losses and devastation if the port project materialises, he said.
Additionally, the 2,000 acres of land previously used by Bengal Salt is now being used by for pisciculture and captive fishing of prawns. Those people, too, would lose their livelihoods if the port project materialises. Agriculturalists in the area would also suffer as their land would be taken for the port's operations, said Das.
The government has closed land mutations in the area, indicating that it will take over a large amount of land via land acquisition for the port's operations. Fishermen in the coastal areas have already been impacted by the discharge of waste from 123 tourist lodges and captive fishing in the area.
Big trawlers are not supposed to come within 12 nautical miles of the coast, reserved for small fishermen, but they have been regularly violating this regulation, said Das. Despite this, the government has shown lack of coastal management and is now proposing constructing artificial coral reefs to facilitate fishing, which the organisation is not in favour of.
Das said that during the Amphan cyclone, about 40 fishing boats in Dadanpatrabar were damaged, but not one boat owner got compensation. Before the cyclone in 2020, 5,000 fishers were associated with the fishing harbour, but after the cyclone, their number has dwindled to 3,700 fishers.
Prasanta Bal, secretary of the fishing harbour and a local-level leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), expressed disdain at the situation and the handling of the matter by the West Bengal government. Speaking with NewsClick, he said that the present system was detrimental, as aratdaars (middlemen) take the money, and the layas or fish-catchers do not get any price for their produce.
“Fishing boat owners make barely Rs 50,000 in a season that spans six months, from October to March” he said, lamenting that tourist lodges coming up in the area had been detrimental to fishermen's interests.
About 25 years ago, during the Left Front's rule, the fish catch used to be more abundant, and fisherfolk used to earn more in the process. The state and Central governments are not taking steps to stop trawling, instead they are giving licenses to a more significant number of trawlers that are now competing with small fishermen in the reserved area for fishing.
Debasish Shyamal, president of the Dakhinbanga Matsajibi Forum, told NewsClick that the Tajpur deep sea port would not benefit traditional fishers of the area, who make up a significant portion of the population in the coastal regions of West Bengal.
On the contrary, this proposed port would lead to the direct loss of livelihoods for approximately 30,000 fishers in the Tajpur area once it begins operations. He said 13 traditional fish landing centres would be shut down due to the port's construction.
Shyamal pointed out that amid rising unemployment in the country, constructing this deep sea port would result in thousands losing their livelihoods in the name of development. "We have already taken to the roads against the commissioning of this deep sea port and recently conducted a rally in Digha in protest. This fight is for the survival of small and traditional fishers, and we won't back down," he told Newsclick.
CPI(M) Demands Whitepaper on Tajpur port
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has demanded a white paper on the Tajpur port. Speaking to NewsClick, Ashis Pramanik, district secretariat member of the party’s East Medinipur committee, said the government should immediately publish a white paper on the controversial transfer of Tajpur port lands to the Adani Group for Rs 1. He also pointed out that the Block Land and Revenue Officer department was silent about which land has been transferred for acquisition.
Pramanik said priority should be to protect the coasts of Digha, Mandarmani, Tajpur, and Shankarpur from erosion. He said his party had no objection to the sea port's construction by the Central and state governments, provided that they considered the fishers' conditions in the area and train the next generation of fishers through skill development workshops.
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