People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 18, 2012


Second Conference of All India Fishers and

Fisheries Workers’ Federation (AIFFWF)




THE second conference of the All India Fishers and Fisheries Workers’ Federation (AIFFWF) called upon all the fishers in the country to unite and fight against the policies of the government that were leading to the loss of their livelihood, displacement, misery and deterioration in their living conditions. The conference was held in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on November 6-7, 2012.


Despite the inclement weather and the unpredicted heavy rains that continuously lashed coastal Andhra Pradesh for three days after the cyclone Nilam crossed the coast, resulting in the cancellation and diversion of several trains reaching Visakhapatnam, around 200 delegates from eight states participated in the conference. MM Lawrence, senior vice president of AIFFWF hoisted the flag, after which the conference began. A presidium comprising MM Lawrence (Kerala), Sudhanshu Bera (West Bengal), Sudhir Das (Tripura), Kumara Swamy (Andhra Pradesh) and Karunanidhi (Tamilnadu) conducted the proceedings. The venue of the conference was named ‘Pitabasan Das Nagar’ after the late president of AIFFWF. The hall was named ‘Sukumar Burman Hall’ and the dais ‘Ramesh Gayen Manch’ to commemorate the memory of its vice president and working committee member who passed away after the last conference.


SV Sudhakar, former vice chancellor of BR Ambedkar University who was the honorary chairman of the reception committee welcomed the delegates.  Inaugurating the conference, S Ramachandran Pillai, criticised the government for ignoring the plight of the common people and implementing policies that only benefited the big national and multinational corporations. He strongly countered the argument of the government that its recent decision to allow FDI in multi brand retail trade would benefit the farmers and provide employment. He said fishers who were among the sections of the people facing the brunt of these policies should come out in large numbers in the struggles against these policies.


Hemalata, general secretary of AIFFWF placed the report that detailed the conditions of the fishers, analysed the experiences of the federation during the period after the last conference, presented the charter of demands and proposed the future tasks.




The report noted that India was among the major producers of fish in the world, occupying the third position in world fish production and second position in the production of fresh water fish in the world. In 2010–11 India produced 82.9 lakh tonnes of fish; around 63 per cent of overall fish production was from the inland sector. It is estimated that the fisheries sector provides livelihood to around 1.5 crore people in the country, most of them belonging to the socially backward sections of the society.


Fishing plays an important role in the national economy. In the marine sector itself, the gross revenue from the catches at the point of first sales (landing centres) in 2010–11 was estimated at Rs 19,753 crores and at the point of last sale (retail markets) it was estimated as Rs 28,511 crores. Around 7.53 lakh tonnes of seafood worth around Rs 12,100 crores was exported from India during 2010–11. However, there was a huge unsatisfied demand as well as potential for increasing fish production. Development of fisheries by allocating adequate resources including financial resources will not only help in tapping this potential but also would provide employment and livelihood to lakhs of poor, particularly in the rural areas.


But the governments have been neglecting this sector and the lakhs of fishers who are dependent on fishing. The livelihood of fishers, both marine and inland, is being threatened due to the policies being pursued by the governments at the centre and in many states.




According to the CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) Census 2010, there are 3,288 marine fishing villages and 1,511 fish landing centres in the nine maritime states and two union territories. The total marine fishers’ population was around 40 lakhs comprising 8,64,550 families. Around 61 per cent of the fishers’ families were under BPL category. Around 38 per cent of marine fishers were engaged in active fishing; 63.3 per cent of fishers were employed in fishing and allied activities. SC/ STs comprise 17 per cent of the marine fishers.


All along the coast, the livelihood of fishers is under threat because of the so-called ‘development projects’ being promoted by the governments, particularly in states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat etc.


The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 1991 meant to restrict activities in the coast to protect the sensitive ecological balance, has been repeatedly amended diluting its provisions. It has been blatantly violated with the connivance of the government machinery. The UPA government tried to replace it with the Coastal Management Zone (CMZ) notification in 2008 but could not succeed due to stiff resistance from the fishing community and their organisations. But, the CRZ notification issued thereafter did not reflect the opinions of the fishers and their organisations.


In several states, hundreds and thousands of acres of land in the coastal areas are being handed over to big corporate hotels for the construction of tourist resorts, Ayurvedic resorts, amusement parks etc with vast stretches of beaches being occupied by big business houses. Many huge power plants including thermal and nuclear power plants, petro and petro chemical complexes, pharmaceutical units, SEZs, iron and steel companies, copper plants, ports, airports, are being constructed in the coast in the name of development. In some states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, vast tracts of mangroves are being destroyed for such activities. The modern factories being established in the coastal areas do not provide gainful employment to the fishers who are being displaced. The number of jobs being created in these industries is very less. Only a handful of those being displaced are given low paid jobs as security guards or construction workers while most others are forced to migrate to cities or other states to seek work in the unorganised sector as manual labour, street vendors etc. Their skills as fishers are being totally wasted and they lead uncertain lives.


As a result of such developmental activities, thousands of fishers are being displaced from their traditional habitats; lakhs are losing their livelihoods as fish resources are getting depleted due to these activities. The space for carrying out their traditional fishing and related activities in the coast is being highly restricted. Despite the recommendations of the Murari Committee, which were accepted by the government, foreign trawlers with highly sophisticated technology are being allowed to fish in our waters, thereby depleting our marine resources. The poor fishers with traditional forms of fishing do not get enough catch to sustain their lives.


There is no effective system to warn the fishers about impending cyclones, tsunamis etc and protect their lives. Hundreds of fishers go missing and lose their lives in such natural disasters. The families who lose the bread winner have also to wait for seven years to get the insurance as it is not often possible to establish death in such cases.


The apathy of the government of India towards the safety of our fishers who venture into the sea and its servile attitude towards the foreign companies was evident in the case of the killing of two innocent fishers fishing in our own territorial waters by the marines from an Italian ship near the coast of Kerala. Though the culprits were arrested due to popular pressure, they are allowed to stay in a guest house with all facilities. In another incident, an Indian fisher was killed and three more grievously injured in the premeditated firing by a US naval ship in the Persian Gulf within the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates. Instead of strongly condemning the killings and demanding strong action against those responsible, the Indian government, which has military collaboration with the USA and the Indian navy engaged in joint exercises with US navy, has confined itself to terming the incident as ‘unfortunate’. Hundreds of fishers who stray into foreign waters are being arrested, jailed and harassed by the neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The Sri Lankan navy has killed several fishers from Tamilnadu in Katchatheevu. The government of India has not taken serious measures to protect the lives of our fishers. Besides, the coastal guards and the forest employees, the Border Security Force etc harass the fishers including resorting to physical assaults.




Inland fisheries sector contributes 60 per cent of the fish production of the country and provides employment to around 23 lakh households with the potential to provide employment to several more lakhs of people.

Under the neoliberal regime, in many states, the water bodies which were previously given to the fishers’ cooperative societies at nominal rates are being auctioned and are passed on to rich sections who often employ fishers as wage workers paying them nominal wages as a small share in the catch or in cash. Either no elections are held to the fishers’ cooperative societies or the elections are manipulated in favour of the rich and the powerful. The fishers are forced to work as poorly paid wage workers.


Water bodies are being reclaimed and handed over to real estate developers. Many local bodies are not willing to spend any money on the maintenance of water bodies. In many places fish production in inland water bodies like rivers, canals etc has declined due to pollution by effluents from the nearby factories, sewerage from the cities etc. In some places like Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh, fishing is barred in ponds on the pretext that it would pollute the water.


Despite their significant contribution to the national economy, fishers do not get access to cheap institutional credit and have to depend on private money lenders who charge very high rates of interest. As the fishers do not have pattas to the land, they are not provided any relief or compensation during natural calamities like drought or floods etc, like the peasants, even as they lose their livelihood on such occasions. They do not get minimum support price for their produce. The loan waiver scheme which is applicable to farmers is not applicable to fishers. In some states like Andhra Pradesh, the state government is closing down fish seed producing centres on the pretext of high cost of maintenance.




Fish vending, particularly retail sale in most of the states is done by women. In many cities and towns there are no proper fish markets with adequate water and sanitation facilities. Fish vendors are not allowed to carry fish in public buses. Often the women fish vendors are subjected to harassment including sexual harassment by the police, contractors and their goondas at the market place.


They do not have access to cheap credit. There do not have access to cold storage facilities. In some places as in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, big corporate retail traders like Reliance have entered the retail trade in fish affecting the livelihood of the poor fish vendors. In Vijayawada in the same state, the municipal corporation decided to hand over a very old fish market to Reliance for their retail outlet thereby depriving the fish vendors their place for selling fish.


The government has entered into the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) which facilitates the import of several types of fish that are available in our country. It is all set to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. These countries use high technology that highly enhances their productivity whereas in India, fishing is predominantly done by small traditional fishers. It will be very difficult for our traditional fishers to compete with the imports from these countries.




Lakhs of workers, most of them women are employed in the fish processing units all over the country. A large number of them are migrant workers from Kerala. These workers are subjected to the worst forms of exploitation. They are forced to live under bonded labour conditions, mostly herded in dingy rooms without proper water and toilet facilities. They are forced to work long hours including during nights depending upon the arrival of the catch. They are not paid minimum wages, paid holidays or social security benefits. Sexual harassment of these women workers is common. No safety equipment is provided to protect them from the impact of the ice in which they have to work continuously. Many of the fish processing workers have to face health problems because of the unhygienic working conditions but no medical help is provided by the companies. They are kept in isolated conditions and are not allowed to meet outsiders to prevent them from getting organised.




In addition to the various problems encountered by the fishers at the work places – the sea, sea shore, water bodies, market places, or the fish processing units, ice factories etc – fishers and their families face a lot of problems in their residential areas. Most of the villages/areas where fishers live do not have basic amenities like drainage, proper roads and communication facilities, drinking water, street lights etc. High illiteracy rates still continue to prevail among the fishers. Many villages do not have schools and access to medical facilities. The children of fishers have to commute long distances to attend school. Because of lack of transport, patients have to be carried for several kilometres to the hospital in cases of emergencies. In several states they are not included in the BPL category and as a result are denied not only subsidised food grains but also the other associated benefits available to the BPL card holders.


The general secretary’s report emphasised the need to address the problems of all the different sections of the fishers and develop strong struggles on their specific demands. It also highlighted the importance of taking up the local problems and day-to-day issues, including the residential problems of the fishers, constitute village/hamlet level committees and ensure democratic functioning of the organisation at all levels. The report stressed the need to develop the consciousness of the fishers as part of the toiling masses and mobilise them into the struggles of the working people.


Noorul Huda, treasurer of AIFFWF placed the accounts. 14 delegates representing all the states present in the conference took part in the discussion and endorsed the formulations made in the general secretary’s report. The need to strengthen the all India centre for effective interventions on policy issues as well as to develop a strong country wide organisation was emphasised in the discussion.


AK Padmanabhan, president of CITU greeted the delegates and exhorted them to build a strong organisation from the grass root level by strengthening democratic functioning. He also reiterated the importance of raising the consciousness of the fishers and bringing them into the mainstream movements of the working people. He also explained the struggles of the joint trade union movement on the ten point charter of demands that included not only the specific demands of the workers but also all sections of the common people. Ch Narasinga Rao, former president of Andhra Pradesh state committee of CITU, MVS Sarma, member of the legislative council also greeted the conference.


The conference unanimously adopted several resolutions – highlighting the demands raised by the joint trade union movement and calling upon all the fishers to joint the ‘Jail Bharo’ movement on  December 18–19, 2012 and the all India general strike on February 20 – 21,  2013; expressing solidarity with the struggles of the fishers in Andhra Pradesh who were being attacked and suppressed for opposing the various ‘developmental projects’ of the government which were leading to the loss of their livelihood, condemning the attacks on the people and their democratic rights by the Trinamool goons in West Bengal, expressing support to the Left Front government in Tripura, opposing FDI in retail, entry of foreign trawlers in Indian waters, etc. It also passed resolutions on the issues related to the different segments of fishers like the marine fishers, inland fishers, fish vendors and processing workers.


The report along with the charter of demands and the future tasks was unanimously adopted after the discussions were summed up by Hemalata. The conference also unanimously elected a 41 member national committee including the 15 member team of office bearers with Tushar Ghosh as president and VV Saseendran as the treasurer. Hemalata was re-elected as the general secretary.


An impressive rally was organised on November 5, with hundreds of fishers from Visakhapatnam district marching in the streets with the fluttering blue flags of the Andhra Pradesh Matsyakarula, Matsyakarmikula Sangham. L Balakrishna, secretary of AIFFWF and general secretary of the state union presided over the public meeting. AK Padmanabhan, VV Saseendran, Ch Narasinga Rao and others addressed the gathering.


On behalf of the presidium, MM Lawrence thanked the Visakhapatnam district committee of CITU and Andhra Pradesh Matsyakarula Matsyakarmikula Sangham for making very good arrangements for the conference despite the many constraints due to the bad weather.



Charter of Demands Adopted by the Second Conference of AIFFWF

1.                  Enact a comprehensive legislation to ensure the rights of fishers on water bodies, on the lines of the Forest Rights Act

2.                  Ban and cancel the licences of foreign fishing trawlers immediately as recommended by the Murari Committee

3.                  Allot more funds for the all round development of fishing industry

4.                  Allot water bodies belonging to the central and state governments/local bodies to the fishers’ cooperative societies at cheap rates

5.                  Issue identity cards for all fishers fishing in sea or rivers at international borders

6.                  Extend cheap loans, extension facilities etc to fisher’s cooperative societies. Prevent vested interests including mafias from controlling fishers’ cooperative societies.

7.                  Ban catching of fish during the major breeding season.

8.                  Do not to allow mechanised trawlers to catch fish within 12 nautical miles of the coast line.

9.                  Ensure effective implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone notification; protect the livelihood of the fishers in the coast

10.              Formulate Relief and Rehabilitation Package for all the fishers displaced due to the ‘developmental projects’ coming up in different parts of the country. Relief and rehabilitation should be provided before fishers are displaced. Single women should be treated as a family. Provide job to at least one person from each of the displaced families.

11.              Enact a Comprehensive National Law providing decent working conditions and social security benefits including pension, health and maternity benefits, life and accident insurance for all fishers including fish vendors and fisheries workers. Constitute a national level welfare fund for fishers

12.              Include all fishers in BPL category and provide all relevant benefits

13.              Provide suitable protection to all migrant fishers and fisheries workers.

14.              Ensure proper educational facilities to the children of the fishers and fisheries workers.

15.              Ensure well equipped and adequately staffed CHC/ PHCs in all fishers’ villages/habitations

16.              Develop fish markets with all the requisite facilities in all district headquarters.

17.              There should be no withdrawal of any quantitative restrictions on industrial, agricultural, and fishery and allied products to protect the livelihood of the working people of India from flooding the Indian market by the MNCs.

18.              Formation of a single ministry of fisheries by the central government to cover all the aspects of fishers and fishing industry.

19.              Formation of a tripartite All India Industrial Committee on Fishing to periodically consider the problems faced by the fishing industry.

20.              Provide diesel and kerosene at subsidised rates to fishers.

21.              Develop new fishing harbours and improve the existing ones on a priority basis

22.              Provide a wide network of cold storage facilities for both inland and coastal fishers.

23.              Proper protective walls should be constructed and maintained to protect sea erosion

24.              Government of India should take immediate steps for the release of Indian fishers who inadvertently cross into the waters of other countries

25.              Due representation should be given to the All India Fishers and Fisheries Workers’ Federation in the existing Central Fisheries Advisory Board