West Bengal: once at the head of production, state fishing cooperatives face a double attack from the weather, “influential people”
Calcutta: In the wee hours of July 14, a fishing trawler called MV Haimabati was returning to Frasergunj port after catching fish in the Bay of Bengal area. However, bad weather near Jambudweep Island caused the trawler to capsize. Only two of the 12 fishermen on board were able to survive, rescued by people from other trawlers. Nine fishermen who slept on the lower deck have died, while one is still missing.
Sukumar Dan, a fisherman, related NewsClick that such trips to the Bay Area are dangerous but lucrative given the restrictions on inland fishing due to the lockdown. After a fishing trip, the owner of a trawler usually receives 40% of the money earned, while 60% is distributed among the staff of 10 to 12 people on the trawler.
Aftermath of cyclone Yaas
The livelihoods of the region’s fishing community suffered in the aftermath of Cyclone Yaas, which hit the coast in May 2021.
According to Debasish Barman, general secretary of the West Bengal Fishermen’s Association, due to the cyclone and the resulting high tide in four districts (East Medinipur, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas and Howrah), a total of 31 blocks were affected and fish farming practiced on more than lakhs of bighas of water bodies was hampered.
Barman said a fish estimated to be worth Rs 300-400 crore was washed away by the cyclone. The intrusion of salt water into bodies of water covering more than 50,000 bighas has made the plight of the fishing community worse. About 3,500 small fishing boats were destroyed and more than 400 large fishing nets washed away, along with five trawlers in the devastation caused by the cyclone.
In the past year, at least six capsizing trawl incidents have been reported, in which 32 fishermen have lost their lives. Twelve fishermen lost their lives in other incidents, including being mutilated to death by tigers in the area.
The fishing sector
In the past 10 years, fishermen from the lower castes of West Bengal have been ousted from the fishing corps, according to several experts. Under the 34-year reign of the Left Front, the state was known to be one of the best in inland fisheries. However, with the crowding out of traditional fishing communities in Bengal, states like Maharashtra appear to be taking the lead in fish production.
In West Bengal, more than 27 lakh 67,000 fishermen now face a threat to their livelihoods as cooperative laws are relaxed, in violation of the West Bengal Fisheries Act of 1984, experts say. The fishermen allege that this is an attempt to open up the sector to “inexperienced” people affiliated with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). There appears to be an attempt to open the sector up to business as well, they say.
Until 2010, there were 1,292 fishing cooperatives in the state, comprising traditional fishing communities and 20 central fishing cooperatives, which are now in dire straits.
With regard to state-level cooperatives, there are allegations that contracts are awarded to individuals posing as cooperatives instead of traditional cooperative societies.
According to Mangal Pramanik, an inland fisherman, a “fight” is unfolding in the state in which traditional fishing communities like Majhi, Malo, Bauri and Parmanik are losing ground to influential outsiders, who are “all ruling party hooligans ”.
Experts accuse the neoliberal policies followed by the TMC government as well as the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata party of facilitating the eviction of traditional fishing communities. As a result, fishermen are forced to work as agricultural or construction workers, and some have even been forced to relocate to other states, such as Kerala, in search of employment.
Ram Das, Chairman of the Fishermen’s Federation and Indian Federation of Fishermen and Fishworkers (AIFFWF), South 24 Parganas, said: “Trawlers are regularly looted in collusion with pirates and henchmen of the ruling party of the state. Most of these hooligans have established free zones for their operations in the northern and southern districts of 24 Parganas and the vast Sundarbans belt. “
Das said the recently imposed regulations also hurt the fishing community and that the sinking of farmland into coastal fish farming, with former fishermen and small boat owners now hired as fish farm workers, made it difficult. things.
He claims that most of these farms were created by the strongmen of TMC, especially in the coastal areas of Medinipore district and in the South 24 Parganas Minakhan region. The AIFFWF coined the slogan “water bodies for fishing net owners” to support the fishing community in their struggle.
Talk with NewsClick, AIFFWF State President Tushar Ghosh asserted that the Central and State BJP and TMC governments, respectively, were promoting “anti-fishing” policies and were responsible for redistributing plans to ‘water between the strongmen of their own party as well as the dissolution of cooperatives.
Many fishermen and fishworkers pointed out that fish production in the state fell rapidly due to government policies. They said that whenever the fishermen tried to make their voice heard against the unfair redistribution of water bodies, the administration and the police acted in concert against the fishermen and “false complaints” were registered against them. .