Raising concerns over their lives and livelihood, thousands of fish workers on Tuesday gathered in ports and harbours across the coastal belt to take part in the nation-wide protest against the Centre’s proposed Shipping Corridor from Gujarat to Kanyakumari. The fish workers, as the part of the protest, lined up their boats across the sea and held dharnas in 23 ports and harbours.
The proposed notification from the Director General of Shipping (DGS) designated a corridor for merchant ships to avoid ships and fishing boats colliding mid sea. Though the notification has not come in the public domain yet, National Fish Workers’ Forum (NFF) terms it as a move from the DGS to protect the interests of commercial shipping companies and other corporates.
“As per the proposed notification, there would be a 34.5 km wide shipping channel at a distance of 15 nautical miles off the coastal line. However, nearly 80 percent of the fish wealth is located within 50 nautical miles off the coast and the proposed corridor would clearly affect the livelihood of the fishermen community across the country,” said T Peter, the general secretary of NFF while talking to Newsclick.
If the proposed corridor plan is being implemented, it would risk the lives of fishworkers. In recent times, the coastal belt has witnessed a series of mid sea collisions which claimed the lives of many fish workers. On August 7, a fishing boat was rammed by a vessel at a distance of 28 nautical miles off Kochi, Kerala. Only, two workers out of 14 could manage to escape from the tragedy. The incident was not an isolated one. A series of such incidents have taken place in the recent past.
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In Kerala, there are nearly 37,000 fishing vessels and around 4000 of those are deep sea fishing vessels. These have to cross the shipping corridor and this would lead to an increase in the number of midsea accidents, Peter noted.
“It is the duty of the responsible agencies to consult the fish workers, especially the traditional fishermen who are the affected, primarily, while they haven’t been contacted for the same,” said Peter. Considering this matter, NFF has been raising questions as this proposed corridor is in line with the larger frame of constructing ports, augmenting coastal infrastructure, developing inland waterways, intensifying fishing, creating special economic zones and tourism promotion under the ‘grand’ scheme of Sagarmala Project.
The fishing community across the country have been opposing the draft Coastal Zone Regulation notification that steps back from the environmental safeguards for the coastlines. The draft stands in violation of Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which states that the central government shall “… take all such measures that it deems to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution”.
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Though the current CRZ2011 notification mandates that setback zones be demarcated, livelihoods be protected, and unchecked development curtailed, the draft CRZ2018 overturns these by removing safeguards and facilitating development, and in turn, paves the way for the Sagarmala project.
Sagarmala project, BJP-led Centre’s Rs 8.5 trillion investment initiative, entitles setting up of new mega ports, modernisation of existing ports, development of Coastal Employment Zones and Coastal Employment Units along with port connectivity via road and rail. Fishermen communities across the country have been terming it as a conspiracy aiming at the displacement of the community for corporates. The proposed Shipping Corridor adds to this.
India has a coastline of 8,129 kms with 2.02 million square kms of Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly two crore people- including fishers, fish sorties, driers and vendors- in India are dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods. With the contribution of inland fish production, India constitutes about 4.4 percent of the global fish production. The fish production in India contributes to nearly 1.5 percent of the GDP too.
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All these moves will result in making the traditional fishermen slaves of the corporate trade. The new move also can be viewed as a ploy to evacuate and strip fish workers off of their livelihood.
The protesters have gathered in Kutch, Porbandhar and Veraval in Gujarat, Mumbi Port, Ratnagiri and Malvan in Maharashtra, Vasco fishing harbour Goa, Mangalore, Karvar and Malppe harbours in Karnataka, Kochi port, Chellanam harbour and Vizhinjam harbour in Kerala, Colachal, Thengapattanam, Muttam, Chinnamuttam and Nagapattinam harbours and Ramnadu in Tamil Nadu, Guntur Bapatla in Andhra Pradesh, Bhubaneswar in Odisha and Contai and Diamond harbour in West Bengal. They have made it clear that if the government does not heed the demands of the fishworkers, they would take their massive campaign across the coastal states with immediate effect.