Kerala Fish Workers Oppose Privatisation of Resources; Hold Foot March Against BJP Govt Policies
The foot march passes through the coastal villages of the Kollam district. (Courtesy: CITU Kerala)
The fisherfolk in Kerala have raised serious concerns about the loss of livelihood and fish reserves, and the detachment from the shores owing to the Blue Economy and the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulations) Act, 2023. Anxious about the outcomes of the policies of the Union government, the Kerala Fish Workers Federation (KFWF) is holding a statewide foot march set to conclude in Thiruvananthapuram on October 14.
The foot march began its journey from Kasargod on September 16 covering 565 km across the nine coastal districts highlighting the challenges faced by the fishing community.
Besides the focus on the policy issues, the march also detailed the lack of support from the Union government in the allocation of funds for the construction of retaining walls to prevent sea erosion, a shrinking share of the Union government for the construction of houses for the fishing community, and slashing of subsidies for Kerosene, among others.
The Federation will hold a human chain at 70 different locations across coastal Kerala against the policies affecting the fishing community on October 16.
‘IMPOSITION OF POLICIES ADVERSELY AFFECTING FISHERFOLK’
The KFWF has accused the Union government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of imposing policies in favour of big corporates at the cost of the fishing community.
Speaking to NewsClick, Kottayi Basheer, the state president of the KFWF, claimed that the fish reserves will be depleted if the policies of the Union government are implemented.
“The central government is planning to permit the private corporate companies to carry out deep sea mining to pump out crude oil, natural gas and other minerals from under the sea bed. This will lead to massive disruption of the ecosystem and impact the fishing community as a whole,” he said.
Around 222 fishing villages from nine districts spread across 595 km of coastline provide livelihood to almost 8 lakh people depending on capture and allied works in the fishing industry. The state exports of the state stand at around Rs 5,000 crores and the share of the state in national marine food production is 13%.
“Privatising such a huge natural resource is a deadly blow to the community and the respective governments. We strongly object to the decision of the Union government to hand over ocean resources to private companies for 50 years,” Basheer added.
Incessant rainfall all through the foot march failed to cast a shadow over the enthusiasm of the workers. (Courtesy: Facebook.com/ppchitharanjan)
The federation, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), has raised concerns over the impact of dredging affecting the ecosystem and subsequently the fish resources. The large-scale excavation would result in stopping the fish flow from the deep sea to the outer sea, making the catchment area deprived of any fish resource for the fishermen to rely on, the federation has claimed.
‘UNION GOVT DENYING SUBSIDIES, FUND ALLOCATION’
With changing climate patterns, the fishing community is facing challenges of sea erosion among others. Sea erosion has affected 275 km of the total 595 km stretch along the coast, leading to the loss of beaches and homes of the fisherfolk.
“The Union government is bound to protect the people from such challenges through projects to protect the seashore and the people. But, for the past several years, there has been no allocation of funds for such projects. Using unscientific methods will further escalate the persisting problems and remain economically unviable too,” Basheer said.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the state has successfully implemented the project along Chellanam Beach, known for severe sea erosion and frequent rehabilitation of people during monsoons.
The subsidies for fishermen for the purchase of kerosene and financial support during trawling ban season complete the long list of demands of the community.
“The fishermen were provided kerosene at a cost of Rs 2.65 per litre. But after the Union government slashed the subsidy drastically, we are paying Rs 81 per litre now. This is the price after the subsidy of Rs 25 per litre provided by the state government,” Basheer said.
The Federation also accused the central government of stopping kerosene supply for the past six months and laying out different conditions for the purchase, including the reduction of quantity from 450 litres per month to 350 litres per month or reduced subsidy. Basheer claimed that either way, the fishermen are facing losses.
‘IMPROVE SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS OF THE COMMUNITY’
The Federation has demanded sustained programmes for the socio-economic development of the fisherfolk. The demand for houses, housing plots, and scholarships for higher education are some of the other key demands of the community.
“The state government has implemented two key projects to provide housing and education to the members of the fishing community. Through the Vidyatheeram scheme, the fisheries department is providing support for the students to pursue higher education,” Basheer told NewsClick.
The foot march passes through the coastal areas of the Alappuzha district. (Courtesy: Facebook.com/ppchitharanjan)
With the new regulations preventing construction of houses close to the seashore and sea erosion taking away houses, the Punargeham project has helped the community to shift to flats and pucca houses.
“Even for such livelihood-related issues, the Union government is inordinately delaying its share. But the people supporting the BJP are blaming the LDF government for political gains. The central government should ensure the timely disbursal of aid to the fishing community to improve their socio-economic status,” Basheer demanded.
The foot march, led by P P Chitharanjan, MLA and general secretary of the Federation will conclude on October 14 at Poonthura Beach close to Thiruvananthapuram city, with M V Govindan, the state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), inaugurating the public meeting.
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