Fishworkers demand separate fisheries ministry at the Centre

Says BJP’s national policy on fishing and fishers released in 2012 recommended the same

By Sayantan Bera
Published: Friday 23 May 2014

Development of SEZ’s, ports, power stations and other industrial installations along the coast has resulted in large scale displacement of fishermen, notes BJP’s national policy on fisheries (photo: Mudiali Fishermen Cooperative Society, Kolkata)

Nearly 30 million people in India depend on fishing as a mainstay of their survival contributing 0.7 per cent of  India’s GDP every year. Yet, as an offshoot of the Union Ministry of Agriculture, fisheries development and welfare got a paltry Rs 317 crore in 2013-14, most of which was spent on training and research with only Rs 8.4 crore allotted for welfare of fisher folk.

To address their many concerns—from special economic zones and power plants eating into the coast line to over fishing by mechanised trawlers—traditional and marginal fisher folk are now demanding a full fledged ministry of fisheries in the Union government. The demand was communicated to Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, the party in the process of forming the next government at the Centre, by Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF), a trade union of fishworkers from southern West Bengal. DMF is affiliated to National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), the apex body representing marginal fishers from across India.

“Almost every Indian state has a fisheries ministry, including smaller states like Manipur. The priority of the Union ministry of agriculture is the welfare and enhancement of farm sector while fisherfolk are always denied the welfare benefits,” says Debashis Shyamal, secretary of DMF and convenor of NFF’s youth platform, Yuva. “Debt relief packages are regularly announced for farmers but there are no such schemes for fishing communities. A separate ministry will address several problems faced by the marginal fishers, like destructive mechanised fishing and coastal sand mining. We also hope for a traditional fisher folk rights act in the lines of the Forest Rights Act,” adds Shyamal.

Prior to the general elections 2014, NFF leaders had requested all political parties to include in the election manifestos their long standing demands like rehabilitating those killed in natural disasters, implementing the ban on coastal sand mining, financial assistance and strict legal action against violation of Coastal Regulation Zone notification.

BJP was the first political party to come out with a national fisheries policy favouring small and traditional fishing communities in 2012. The document released by then party president, Nitin Gadkari, highlighted the fact that around 60 per cent of the fisher families fall below poverty line.

BJP’s national policy notes that “traditional fishermen have been the victims of not only the neglect; rather policies designed by the governments in the name of the development of fisheries have actually been working against the fishing communities in general. Faced with deprivations of many kinds, including income disparities, poverty, hunger and malnutrition, ad-hocism and gaps in policy especially related to depletion of fishery resources, inadequate education and health infrastructure, rising sea level, destruction of mangroves, pollution, inadequate provisions for disaster management, encroachment on territorial waters, overfishing and un sustainability, land acquisition along the coast, existence of traditional fisheries communities  is under severe threat. The absence of an integrated approach by different departments of government has contributed to the distress of the fishing communities.” (see policy, pdf)

The challenge for a separate ministry, however, remains in the current disposition of prime minister designate, Narendra Modi. The new government, it is widely believed, will be leaner and combine related departments to create “super ministries”. For instance, if the rural development ministry is merged with Panchayati Raj, as a recent report from the Economic Times suggests, it is unlike that Ministry of Agriculture will be split up.

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