Published: Thursday 15 April 1999

Goa: fisherfolk's tale

Child of the sand and sea and sun,
Of nine poor children the littlest one,
Constancio Fernandes, when he was just eight,
Was launched, by a then-common twist of fate,
On the most remarkable life I have known.

A well-to-do neighbour, a doctor from Goa,
Having a practice in Gujarat state,
Sought a boy from her home-town to help with the housework,
Constancio Joao was chosen to go.

His impoverished parents, at once glad and sorry,
Would miss their bright boy but were sure he would be,
Well-fed and well cared for, perhaps educated, too.
Constancio left home with his dreams full of glory:
Of supporting his parents by sending home money.
Alas, what transpired was a different story.

From sun-up to sun-down he scrubbed, fetched and carried,
From morning to night he was scolded and harried,
With never a moment of childhood to spare --
No schooling, no playmates, no fun and no play.
And, alas, at the end of each month's work, no pay.
He was fined the first month for spilling some milk,
And fined in the next month for breaking a plate,
Fined again the third month for neglecting the cat,
And fined every month-end for this or that,
All from his monthly two rupees' pay!

At long last, one month when paid half a rupee,

he decided to run home and at last be free.
Travelling ticketless, boarding a train,
Changing at Bombay, he reached home again,
bright-eyed and undaunted, to start life anew,
Deciding to live by old skills that he knew.

Bought, with his half-rupee, twine that he knotted,
Into a fine-meshed and kerchief-sized fishnet.
Tied a twig-frame to it and strolled through the shallows
Sweeping his hand-net beside him all day,
For a handful of fish that he then would parlay
Into more twine, more fishnet, more fish and more pay.
Years later, we met him, a prosperous patriarch,
At ease in his huge tile-roofed home by the sea.

Regaling us trekkers with sea-food and story,
Providing a feast but refusing our money,
He told the most marvellous tales of past glory:
His sixty-foot sailboat, employing a dozen,
With one-mile-long fishnet, then costing a fortune,
Huge Alladin-jars filled with salt and with pickle,
The mountains of food cooked to feed all his people:
The fishermen, salters and ice-men and cooks.
All went well till the advent of motorised trawlers.
Encouraged by government, greedy and lawless,
They fished where they shouldn't, close inshore in shallows.
Trawling the bottoms, destroying the catch,
And the lives and the livelihood of the old-times.
Traditional fisherfolk, pleading in vain
For sustainable harvests from which all could gain.

Now the long boats lie silent in giant old barns
Net piled high to the rafters, unused and unsold.
No-one now wants this lace that once harvested gold,
All sparkling with slivery slippery fins...
Old-timers still suffer for other men's sins.
Brave Constancio recounts all of this with a smile,
His sad times and good at Arossim-parail.

But the trawlers in turn now lie beached in the breeze
As big ships from around the world fish off our seas....

Government apathy

It disturbs me when government systems do not fulfil their obligations and responsibilities ('Waters of Life' Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 20; March 15).

As chief executive of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme ( akrsp ), I faced a similar situation in the drought-prone district of Surendranagar in Gujarat. The villagers of Bhimora, with the support of akrsp, wanted to construct a percolation tank. The irrigation department rejected the proposal saying that the proposed tank would "intercept" the flow of water to the irrigation dam on Machhu river. Apparently, the run-off from Chimera village was falling within the catchment area of the irrigation dam on Machhu. I could not agree with this logic because the villagers of Bhimora had the right to the waters from rainfall showers in this village.

The villagers were never taken into confidence during the planning and designing phases of the irrigation dam on Machhu river. But a decision was taken to include Bhimora village area in the catchment area. The villagers' right over their rainfall waters was being committed to an irrigation project whose waters would only benefit other villages in the area. When I approached the department, they did not agree with my opinion. Subsequently, I approached the minister for irrigation. The minister was from Saurashtra and understood the importance of percolation tanks for recharging the wells for agriculture. He overruled the department's views and granted permission to the akrsp to construct the percolation tank.

There were certain favourable circumstances that helped the akrsp . Not only was the minister from the same district, but his organisation was running a Lokshala in Bhimora. Therefore, he had his own reasons for supporting my proposal. The government had once constructed a percolation tank in Bhimora. But poor construction ruined the tank. Our proposal was to only renovate the tank, which was earlier built by the irrigation department.

I can cite another experience where it was possible to get government approval for a proposal which was opposed by the bureaucracy. It has been summarised in a paper "More or Less" which recounts the story of transferring the management of a government canal to the Water Users' Association with a condition that the water rates should not be more than the government rates. Following a sustained struggle, our proposal was finally approved by the minister.

I have been working in the area of natural resource development for the last 14 years through participation of stakeholders and extensively deal with government authorities at all levels. Even though I have the advantage of being an ex-bureaucrat, the benefit is only of accessibility. I have to develop appropriate approaches and methods to influence policies of my interest: joint forest management, participatory irrigation management and watershed development.

In 60 to 70 per cent of cases, it is possible to get favourable decisions from the government only if the case is presented properly. Also, one must be willing to go to "succeedingly" higher levels to get a final decision -- favourable or otherwise.
The article on cloning 'Humans may follow' ( Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 20; March 15) was written by K Satyanarayana and not V Satyanarayan.

In the article 'Perpetual thirst' ( Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 19; February 28) the byline of Anish Gupta was left out. Also, in the case study of Ambikanagar, West Bengal, in the same article, it was said that the state has about 400 sq km of water bodies. The figure should have been 4,000 sq km.

The errors are regretted....

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