The Life of Fishworkers
By Goldy M. George
05 May, 2004
prawn farms have ruined our lives. Since the prawn farms are built the
water is poured into our farms and villages. Our crops are destroyed.
Even we are unable to fish properly since they destroy the fishes due
to their prawn farms. We have to put a stop to it", says I. Kasiyammal
Over 60% of India's
one billion people live alone the coastline. In Puttupettai village
one of the coastal region in Tamilnadu, Kuni and her friends once played
pitting beaches, but now with the industry taking over the coastal areas
it has been banned. The coastline is littered with bunds of prawn farms.
Polluted salty water from the prawn tanks are swept into people's field's
killing the soil and the crops growing there. Well became useless, the
water undrinkable. Villagers are now forced to walk many miles to fetch
fresh water. In some cases it must be trucking daily.
People have been
always engaged in fishing prawn in a more amicable and eco-friendly
way. In northern Tamilnadu itself, more than 30 thousand people are
engaged in fishing. However it was not a mono-culture farming. In early
90s, viewing the huge profit and tremendous market in the western world,
big corporate houses jumped into this business at a large scale. Primarily
the intention was to explore the market in USA, UK and other countries
in Europe. Soon breaking up of the sea water/lagoon water with the help
of bunds was done to make it a more systematic market oriented business
to cater to the external market. One of the crucial instances is the
Thilaivilagham village, near Muttupetai in Thiruvarur district in Tamilnadu.
Here there are more than 10 companies engaged in this business. It flourished
and brought in western capital, as export became pillar of it. Free
movement of capital is what is basically the edifice of globalization
and this has deeply internalized into the fishing sector too.
Prawn farms wastes,
pesticides and fertilizers are pumped back into the sea polluting the
breeding zones for the fishes, upon which the people depend. With their
land and water polluted people are forced to abandon their coastal villages
and move into city edge slums in Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. From Perunthottam
village of Nagapattinam district itself 200 families have moved to the
city edges of Chennai in search of livelihood.
Not only the people
who are suffering. It is adversely affecting the coastal eco-system,
as the eco-zones are fragile. India's coastal line stretches a rich
biodiversity with thick mangrove forests and wildlife. This is very
vital in sustaining the coastal ecology and the coastal ecology and
the wildlife in such areas. In the lagoon near Muttupetai, it is the
home for tens of thousands of birds. Now the forest is destroyed and
forcing the birds to migrate.
have proved that Japan has been benefited due to this mangrove forest
in the lagoon and Japan Bank of International Corporation (JBIC) has
provided a financial support of Rupees 5 crore to the Tamilnadu government
for the development of the forests inside the lagoon. This is in clear
contradiction to each other. On one hand the government takes on money
from JBIC and on the other it is promoting the destructive prawn farm
From time immemorial
the fisher people have been the defenders and protectors of the coastal
territories of India from all foreign invasions and other external threats.
Generally as it is known that the fisherfolk in the seacoast are very
strong and lead a very risky life, even they could hunt sharks. "We
have a very rich seacoast and EEZ", say Thomas Kocherry the Chairman
of fish resources and multi species are very rich. 10 million fisher
people catch 30 lakh tonnes of fish every year. From the time of Independence
in 1947, India has attempted to modernise its economy rapidly, inspired
by the technological progress of the West. Ignoring the skills and potentialities
of the large number of traditional fisher people, the government promoted
foreign technologies like bottom trawling, again a war technology to
discover mines at the bottom of the sea, misapplied to fishing resulting
in indiscriminate, unsustainable and destructive fishing. This depleted
the life resources and displaced the traditional fisher people who depend
on these life resources. Deforestation due to industrialisation and
other encroachments, Construction of Mega Dams, pollution of water siltation
and other reclamation Shrimp Aquaculture, all these have drastically
reduced fish availability and livelihood of fishing communities in India.
All these ventures are taken up by the MNCs and the TNCs in the name
The net result on
the one hand quick profit to the big investors who can easily close
down their business after the depletion of resources and begin to invest
in something else more profitable and on the other hand, complete loss
of livelihood and displacement for peoples who lived off these natural
resources while caring and nurturing the same.
In the 1990s fishing
reached the point of diminishing returns. Many fish populations have
fallen to the levels from which they can no longer recover without significant
reductions in the catches or a moratorium on fishing. There are simply
too many boats and ships to catch a limited fish resource in the world.
The first surge in numbers of fishing vessels occurred during the industrial
revolution. These upwell tapered off during the two world wars, but
boomed again in the 1950s through 1970s. The world's fishing fleets
doubled between 1970 and 1990.
This threat to the
very livelihood of fisher people has forced them to forge new linkages
and organise to face the threats. Through a long chain of hunger strikes,
sit-ins, rallies, picketing national high ways, railway lines, airports,
government offices, blocking harbours etc the fisher people were able
to obtain the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification. But even that is
This struggle went
on and one Mr. Jagannathan, engaged in the Sarvodaya movement for the
past 55 years, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court vide 561 of
1994 against the Shrimp industries in the eastern coast of Tamilnadu.
The major demands before the honourable court were (i) enforcement of
Coastal Zone Regulation Notification dated February 19, 1991 issued
by the Government of India, (ii) stoppage of intensive and semi-intensive
type of prawn farming in the ecologically fragile coastal areas, (iii)
prohibition from using the waste lands/wetlands for prawn farming and
(iv) the constitution of a National Coastal Management Authority to
safeguard the marine life and coastal areas.
In 1991 the Ministry
of Environment and Forests, Government of India issued a notification
dated February 19, under clause (d) of sub-rule (3) of rules 5 of the
Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986. Wherein it was declared that the
coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwater
which are influenced by the tidal action (in the landward side) up to
500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) and the land between the Low
Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL are Coastal Regulatory Zones. The Central
Government has imposed various restrictions in the said Notification.
cultivation have degraded the coastal ecology to greater extend and
it has further effected the tradition fisherfolk as well as the farmers
and other dependent on this for their livelihood. Even the Supreme Court
in the Jagannathan case had come to this understanding with the help
of different committees and experts. Fisher people relate with the sea
not as a commodity, but as mother and there is a sense and relation
of mutuality and caring between the mother and child. For the corporate
houses it is only a commodity to be profited.
Apex court came out with its final verdict dated 11-12-1996, in which
it directed the Central Government to constitute an authority to take
care of the ecologically fragile coastal areas. In its order it banned
all aquaculture industry or shrimp culture within the Coastal Regulation
Zone (CRZ) as defined in the CRZ regulation and directed the states
to close or demolish such industries before March 31 1997 and to file
a compliance report in this respect by the authorities before April
15, 1997. In no. 6 of the order the Supreme Court explicitly pointed
that "the agricultural lands, salt pan lands, mangroves, wet lands,
forest lands, land for village common purpose shall not be used/converted
for construction of shrimp culture ponds". Any violation or non-compliance
of the directions of the Supreme Court was to be considered under the
Contempt of Courts Acts.
Despite this ruling
by the highest judiciary of the country, there has not been much of
improvement in the situation of the people. In most of the states, regardless
of the convergence of peoples' pressure on the Government and authorities,
the Government and authorities have severely failed in implementing
the directives of the Supreme Court. The situation in Tamilnadu remained
the same. To recall, the state is deemed to enforce all directives of
Apex Courts without any impediment. Even it should not be essential
that the people protest for its execution.
It is to be noted
that since 1978 onwards the fishworkers have been on the forefront in
organising and struggling to protect the resources and the fishing community
in India. The struggle for Marine Fishing Regulation Act and its implementation
has been a long-standing one. It is yet to be fully realized. Though
the Majumadar Committee recommended that the Parliament should enact
the MFRA in 1978, under the camouflage of constitutional pretext, it
has not been done even till this day. Instead of Parliament enacting
such an act, the Marine Fishing Regulation model bill was sent to the
states to enact the same. Most of the coastal states responded positively
but it did not serve the purpose fully. The Murari Committee recommended
that the Marine Fishing Regulation in EEZ should be enacted by the Parliament.
It is yet to be done.
Despite the warning
from the Supreme Court the prawn farms are continued. New sites have
been granted permit only after the SC verdict all along the coastal
areas of Tamilnadu. "The Fishery department is playing foul hand
in glove with the prawn lobby; this is illegal", say Jagannathan
Chairman of Tamilnadu Gram Swaraj Movement.
It appears that
the mandarins either did not go into the details of the judgement or
deliberately keep the industries satisfied. The money power of the prawn
companies is in full swing. The law is being ignored and flouted yet
no action is taken from any section of the government. This is of server
concern. Now the coastal people are ready to take-up another battle.
Unless the government and administration acts, the prawn wars will never
end. Further the damage needs to be cleared up. People should get their
livelihood back. And if industrial prawn farms are to have a future
it should be set up in a controlled and sustainable way. Pudi Kuppam
from Puttupettai village says, "We live on this land. The water
(sea) is our mother. It takes care of us. This is our livelihood. If
the prawn farms start operating it will ruin us, but we will destroy
them. Wherever it is, we will not spare them. We will wipe them out".
And that is not the end of the story.
Goldy M. George
Dalit Study Circle, Karbala Para, Behind State Bank of Indore, G.E.Road,
Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India, 492001
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