The traditional fishermen community in the State is preparing for a mass mobilisation as part of a nationwide agitation against the threats posed by the neglect of the sector by the Central government and the restrictions imposed on fishing activities at sea.
The National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), spearheading the agitation, is planning to take out a march to Parliament on April 22 urging the Union government to scrap the B. Meenakumari Committee report on deep-sea fishing policy and cancel the Letters of Permit (LoPs) issued to foreign fishing vessels. The forum wants the Centre to create a separate Ministry for fisheries and protect coastal areas from land grabbers. The NFF is also putting up stiff resistance to the move to extend the monsoon fishing ban from 45 to 61 days for all motorised boats, including those fitted with outboard engines, as recommended by the G. Syda Rao Committee.
“There is a concerted move to open up our fishing grounds to corporate powers even as more restrictions are being imposed on traditional fishing activities. This constitutes an infringement of our rights and threatens to rob us of our livelihood,” says T. Peter, secretary, NFF. “To make things worse, the budget allocation for the fisheries sector has been slashed by Rs.10 crore.”
on Meanwhile, the Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee has issued a call for a coastal hartal in the State on April 8 to highlight the threats faced by the traditional fishers. Fishermen will stay away from work and fish markets will down shutters.
Fishermen upset over passport norm
The government’s move to make passports mandatory for fishermen travelling to international waters has drawn mixed reactions from the fishermen community. On Friday , the external affairs ministry said that the Passport Act, 1967, provides that no person shall depart from, or attempt to depart from India unless he holds a valid passport or travel document.The rule will be in effect from June 1.
T Peter, national secretary of the National Fish Workers’ Forum said the new rule was draconic. “India’s exclusive economic zone extends up to 200 nautical miles, which is around 360km.When they say we need a passport to go beyond that, we would also like to know who would issue the visa. This rule is harassment and we strongly condemn it.“ As per the gazette notification issued by the government of India in 1968, in view of the functional requirement of seamen’s foreign travel, members of the crew and tindals of sailing vessels (holding identity cards or permits, under the Sailing Vessels (Members of Crew) Rules, 1967) were exempted from holding passports before travelling abroad. This provision allowed seamen to travel abroad on the basis of their identity card. Such a rule should also properly define what good it does to fishermen, said Char les George of Kera la Matsya Thozhi lali Aikyavedi (TUCI). “Will it give an assurance that they will not get arrested if they happen to cross borders? Also, there should be a provision to carry a duplicate as we will be going to deep water territory . There is no guarantee that we can keep it safe,“ he added. “If their aim is to keep a check on vessels travelling abroad, what we need is automated information systems capable of providing information about a ship to other ships and to coastal authorities, not passports,“ said general secretary of All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators’ Association Joseph Xavier Kalappirackal.