The fishing community of Tamil Nadu has decided to further intensify the protest against the Marine Fisheries Bill, 2021. Besides, the draft policy framework on the blue economy, which envisages using marine resources for sustainable development, has invited the ire of the fishermen, who have alleged that the stakeholders were not consulted before its publication.
The fishers have alleged that the Bill and the draft are heavily stacked against the rights of traditional fishermen while giving companies the liberty to utilise the resources of and from the ocean space to their benefit. While sustainable development and utilisation of resources have been given priority in the draft, the fishermen have expressed the fear of displacement and loss of livelihood.
The state conference of the Tamil Nadu Fish Workers Federation (TNFWF) had also asked the Centre to withdraw the Bill and drop the draft to ensure protection of the rights of the fishermen and the fisheries workers.
BLUE ECONOMY DRAFT WILL DISPLACE TRADITIONAL FISHERMEN
The draft policy, published in 2020, has defined blue economy as a subset of the national economy, comprising the entire system of ocean resources and manmade economic infrastructure in marine, maritime and the onshore coastal zones within India’s legal jurisdiction, which aid in the production of goods and services and have clear linkages with economic growth, environmental sustainability and national security.
However, P Stanley, national secretary, All India Fishers and Fisheries Workers Federation (AIFFWF), said that the “recent policies rolled out by the Union government on fisheries are heavily stacked against people earning their livelihood from seas, particularly the traditional fishermen”. “We strongly oppose the draft blue economy policy of the BJP government, which will only favour the corporate entities,” he told Newsclick.
On the consultations and invitation of opinions by the ministry of earth sciences on the draft, Stanley alleged that the stakeholders were not given a hearing to voice their plight and reservations. ‘The draft policy mentions about exploring the resources available in the ocean, but it will end up in exploitation. The corporate entities will have a free hand to introduce tourism, sports activities and tap the natural resources from the bed of the ocean, which will have a huge impact on the traditional fishermen. Therefore, the draft must be withdrawn without any preconditions,” he added.
‘WITHDRAW MARINE FISHERIES BILL’
The TNFWF demanded that the Centre should provide employment to the youths of the fishing community directly instead of giving a free rein to corporate entities. The Bill will only corporatise the wealth of the seas and hence should be withdrawn, it added.
S Anthony, general secretary, TNFWF, said, “We have held a number of protests against the Bill across the coastal districts. The protest will only intensify if the Union government remains insensitive to our demands.”
The promise made by the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on forming a separate ministry for fishing remains unfulfilled, the community said. V Kumar, deputy general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (state unit), said, “Opening the coastal areas to corporate entities for recreation, entertainment and research will lead to loss of livelihood for the two-crore strong population dependent on seas. The Bill also infringes the rights of state governments, which is against the federal structure.”
STATE GOVERNMENT MUST FULFIL DEMANDS
The long-pending demands of the fishing community, which includes inland fishermen and fish-sellers, must be fulfilled by the state government, the leaders demanded. “The state government must carve out an independent welfare board for the fishermen and ensure that the enrolment and renewal processes are simplified. The demand for Rs 3,000 monthly pension for fishers above 60 years and women workers above 55 must be fulfilled,” Kumar added.
Other demands, including higher subsidies for diesel and kerosene for country boat fishermen and government aid during fishing ban have also not been fulfilled by the state government. The housing issues of the fishing hamlets also need the attention of the state government, which gets considerable income from exports. The state government earned revenue of Rs 5,591.49 crore in foreign exchange in 2018-19, as per the fisheries policy note.
“The fishing community remains largely neglected despite playing a crucial role in ensuring healthy food for the population and income to the government. Policies should be framed in consultation with the community, not imposed, as being done by the BJP government,” Anthony said.