Tamil Nadu fisherfolk concerned over Centre’s coastal policies

Ramanathapuram: The National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), a national federation of state-level small and traditional fish workers’ unions, has raised concern over the Central government’s Sagarmala national perspective plan and the Marine Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ).

According to the NFF, which is currently campaigning across the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, highlighting the various issues faced by the fishing community, the proposed coastal plans by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will have a drastic impact on the livelihood of the fisherfolk.

The Sagarmala national perspective plan estimates that the program could lead to annual logistics cost savings of close to Rs350 billion and boost India’s merchandise exports to $110 billion by 2025. About 10 million new jobs are estimated to be created, of which 40 lakh will be direct employment.

“(But), what jobs will they give us? We are fishermen and will not give up our traditional job,” said John Brito, from Nagercoil, who has been fishing for over 40 years.

As per a series of reports published by public policy think-tank Centre for Policy and Research (CPR), the MCRZ, which would replace the existing 2011 CRZ notification, has ignored the concerns raised by the coastal communities and local people.

One of the CPR reports said that a participatory review is critical because changes in the coastal regulation will have a direct bearing on over 3,200 marine fishing villages and several million residents living across India’s coastline.

The people of Tamil Nadu have been expressing fear over the last few years over projects that might affect the coastline of the state.

For instance, the proposed Enayam International Container Transhipment Terminal (EICTT), a port to be developed at Enayam, Kanyakumari, has witnessed a lot of opposition from the fishing community over the last year. The port, which was earlier proposed to be established at Colachel, was shifted 10 km away to Enayam last year.

The fishermen fear sea erosion and have claimed that the proposed project at Enayam would displace over 30,000 fishermen families. “It is evident that the current government is on the way to destroy the coastal environment and the lives and livelihoods of the communities dependent on the coasts,” said R.V. Kumaravelu, vice-chairperson of the NFF.

Meanwhile, Pon Radhakrishnan, minister of state for road, transport, highways and shipping, who represents the Kanyakumari constituency where the port is proposed to be built, said last month that Tamil Nadu will get the distinction of being the first state to have four major ports.

There has also been criticism over the proximity of the proposed Enayam port to the upcoming Vizhinjam port in Trivandrum and Vallarpadam port at Cochin.

The NFF has also raised concern about Idinthakarai, which has been the epicentre for protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), since 2012. Fishermen and environmentalists have been opposing the nuclear power plant as it could have drastic impact on the livelihood of the fishing community.

S.P. Rayappan, leader of the Artisanal Boats Association, also raised the issue of dialogue between the fisherfolk from India and Sri Lanka. “The constant tension between Sri Lanka and India regarding access to the oceans, the constant arrests and the intimidation by the Sri Lankan navy must immediately stop,” he said.