Kolkata: At the third national conference of the All India Fisherman and Allied Fish Workers Federation (AIFFWF) in Uluberia of Howrah district, fisherfolk demanded that the government improve the social security provisions for them and adopt a pisciculture-friendly policy. They also raised a proposal for the scrapping of the Sagarmala project, which, they asserted, will “spell doomsday for the entire fishing sector across the country”.
Uma Sarkar from West Bengal emphasised the need for social security schemes to protect the livelihood of the fisherfolk. She also highlighted the importance of protecting the environment and forests – along with the depth of the various river channels in Sundarbans. “Protecting the mangroves should be a priority currently,” she said as she presented her report on behalf of the West Bengal participants before the 189 delegates present at the conference.
The West Bengal delegates also called for an immediate ban on the international sea trade route that passes through the river channels of Sundarbans, which, they said, is causing severe damage to the islands. They reported that this has led to artificial high waves, while the oil spills – as residuals in the channels – are affecting the fish population of the entire area as well. The pertinent question of giving identity cards to all the fishers of the state also came up in discussion.
The West Bengal delegates also demanded a ban on the entry of big capital into the cooperative sector. They also asked for a provision of loans at lower interest rates for the fishers – as were offered during the rule of the Left Front in the state. One of the demands also stated that the inland water bodies be leased to fishers’ cooperatives only.
Sarkar, speaking at the conference, also appealed to the government to reduce land tax, which, she said, has increased manifold in the past few years. Then, the issue of ultra-modern foreign vessels entering the Indian coastline with permits was discussed at the conference and it was demanded that the permits of these vessels be cancelled.
The delegates from Telangana spoke about the laxity on the government’s part in helping the fishers and the lack of seed distribution in the pisciculture sector. The delegates from Kerala highlighted how the Left government is trying to develop the sector amidst a detrimental central policy. The Tripura delegates complained that due to the lack of dredging, the fish catch is depleting at Rudra Sagar and the BJP government is “sitting idle over it”.
Later, the outgoing general secretary of the organisation, K Hemalata, presented the politico-organisational report at the conference. She then spoke about the blue economy policy being proposed by the central government in the marine fishing sector. “It is nothing but a move to hand over the entire fishing sector and coastal areas to big corporates including those in the tourism and mining sectors. It aims to drive out the inhabitants of coastal areas and give these away to corporates for looting in the name of the development,” she opined. The report was later accepted at the conference unanimously.
In the evening, a rally was organised at the Fuleshwar bus stand of Uluberia. Speaking at the rally, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen seconded the view that there is corporate aggression in the marine fishery sector as well as in the internal water bodies of the country. “The need of the hour is to build up a strong protest movement in the country for our demands. Though the fishery sector is a big foreign exchange generator in the country and accounts for thousands of crores of rupees, the state and central governments are making laws that are detrimental to the fishers who work in this sector. About eight crore fishers are in peril due to the policies of the Union government,” he said.