People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 09, 2007
Ban Foreign Trawlers, Says AIFFWF
THE national committee of the All India Fishers and Fisheries Workers’ Federation met in New Delhi on November 29 – 30, 2007. Members and invitees from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tripura and West Bengal participated in the meeting, which was presided over by Pitabasan Das, president of the Federation.
The meeting welcomed the participation of the representatives from Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand, which indicated the prospect of widening the movement. Participating on the brief report placed by Hemalata, general secretary of the AIFFWF, members reported their experiences while collecting the signatures on the memorandum to the Union Agricultural minister. In Kerala, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, signatures were collected on the memorandum by holding group meetings and through door to door visits in the fishers’ villages. While appreciating the efforts made by the state committees, the meeting also noted that while the objective of the signature campaign was to approach fishers and fisheries workers outside the purview of our organisations, the number of signatures collected indicated that weaknesses existed even in approaching all our members.
It has also been reported that in several states like Kerala, Tripura etc., wide campaign was conducted for the all India strike of the unorganised sector workers on August 8, 2007 and the fishers participated and actively supported the strike.
Considering the vast differences in the working and living conditions of the fishers and fisheries workers in different states and also among the marine and inland fishers and among those engaged in different activities like fish production, processing and marketing, the meeting decided to have a detailed discussion on the problems and demands of fishers and fisheries workers after collecting all the relevant information. It was decided to organise a two day workshop in Delhi in July 2008.
The national committee called upon the state committees to concentrate on the state and local level issues of the fishers and fisheries workers, including the problems in their living places like BPL ration cards, house sites, construction of houses, functioning of the cooperative societies, etc. The national committee also decided to make efforts to develop joint campaigns of fishers and fisheries workers wherever possible.
Earlier a delegation of the AIFFWF met Sharad Pawar, Union minister for Agriculture on November 29, 2007, under the leadership of Tapan Sen, Member of Parliament and secretary, CITU. The delegation consisted of Hemalata, general secretary, Sukumar Barman, vice president, Sudan Das and Balakrishna, both secretaries, Ramesh Gayen, Aruna and Narasimha, members of the Federation. The memorandum, which was endorsed by around one and half lakhs fishers from all over the country with their signatures, was submitted to the minister.
The memorandum noted that around 38.40 lakhs people were engaged in production and sale of fish while another 38 lakhs were engaged in fish processing industry. More than 3 crore people depended on the industry, which was one of the major foreign exchange earners. But the fishers had to eke out a miserable living with no social security benefits and no income security. In spite of their hard work, they constituted a large section of the poor of the country. But, most of the fishers were denied BPL cards on one or the other pretext. There were many instances of fishers being drifted into the territorial waters of the neighbouring countries inadvertently and being arrested and harassed by the concerned governments. The fish vendors, most of them women, do not have proper marketing facilities.
The demands included increased allotment to the fisheries industry by the government, enactment of a comprehensive legislation for the fishers and fisheries workers covering working conditions and social security benefits, ban on foreign trawlers, protection of the biodiversity of fish in the country and promoting environmental friendly practices, provision of marketing space at nominal cost for women fishers’ cooperative societies and to include all fishers under the BPL category and provide ration cards. The delegation also demanded that the water bodies should be protected and fishers’ cooperatives should be provided access to these.
The minister gave a patient hearing and told that steps have been taken not to allow foreign trawlers in Indian waters; he agreed with the points raised in the memorandum and assured that these would be discussed in the meeting of the state fisheries ministers scheduled early next year.