A team of volunteers from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, visited several districts South Gujarat and Saurashtra in order to map contentious issues faced by the people living in the coastal areas. A report prepared by the CSJ based on the exercise has revealed that the communities living in coastal areas in Gujarat remain largely neglected, making them highly vulnerable. The main issues that these communities face include implementation of developmental schemes meant for them, pollution, lack of basic amenities and governmental neglect.
Bhadbhut village in Vagra taluka of Bharuch district, is in news. Situated next to the mouth of the Narmada river, the Gujarat government plans to construct a long 11-km barrage at Bhadbhut, which is proposed to be part of the Kalpasar project, aimed at converting the Gulf of Khambhat into a sweet water lake by damming the Gulf. Water collected upstream of the barrage in Narmaa river is proposed to be diverted into the sweet water lake via a canal. Atop this barrage, there is a plan to construct a six-lane road, which will shorten the distance between Hazira and Dahej.
The villagers in the vicinity, however, feel that their livelihood will be adversely affected because of the barrage. Pravin Majhi, who is leading a struggle against the barrage, feels that around 8,000 people living in 22 villages between Kevadiya colony, the site of the Narmada dam, and Bhadbhut will be affected. The fishermen inhabiting these areas mostly belong to other backward classes (OBCs) or are scheduled tribes (STs). The fishermen in Bhadbhut derive their main income by selling Hilsa and Ilish fish, which migrates from brackish water to fresh water for breeding. Hilsa particularly fetches a good price to the fishermen. In Gujarat, Hilsa is available only in this region. With the construction of the barrage, the contact between brackish water and fresh water, which is essential for breeding, will be snapped.
The fishermen in the Tadiya Dhanturia village will be completely displaced because of the barrage. In the RTI that was filed with the Office of the Chief Minister of Gujarat, enquiring about the rehabilitation plans for fishermen in the area, the government replied that there were no such plans in place. Besides, if the barrage comes into place, it would prevent the village fishermen from venturing into the sea for fishing.
Already, developmental activities along the sea coast have adversely affected fishermen. In Luvara, Lakhigam and Dahej villages in Vagra taluka, about 150 fishermen indulged in fishing. These villages are about one km from the sea. Conveyor belt carrying import\export material from the Adani port could be seen around the area. The local fisherman said that they are not allowed to fish around the Adani port as ships constantly keep criss-crossing.
In Aliabet, an island situated on the mouth of Narmada river, the inhabitants do not have access to basic necessities such as electricity, water supply and roads. Inhabitants of Aliabet belong to the Kutchi Muslim community that moved here about 100 years ago. The land around Aliabet belongs to the forest department. Therefore, the inhabitants complain, they hardly receive any benefits from government schemes. Their main occupation is cattle herding. It is speculated that a big pond is proposed to be constructed in Aliabet for supplying water to industries in the nearby region, especially the Petroleum, Chemical and Petro-chemical Investment Region (PCPIR) and special economic zone (SEZ) in Dahej.
Against the backdrop of such big plans for the corporate sector, it was shocking to see that the primary school in Aliabet is run in a tent with the help of funds received from the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). In 2005, the District Development Officer sanctioned and planned the construction of a primary school. The Forest Department clamped down and stopped construction of the school. The Collector and the District Development Officer were present at the time of the inception of the plan, and the fact that Aliabet was getting its own primary school was widely circulated in the media. Funds, too, were sanctioned. The Forest Department raised an objection citing that construction of the building could not be done on forest land. Later, the land was surveyed and all developmental activities were banned on the forest land.
Two ports are situated in Surat district – Hazira and Magdalla. Local fisheries officials said, in Surat district, fishing is carried out in three villages of Choryasi taluka – Dumus, Bhimpur and Dandi. Dumus is situated at a distance of 15 km from Surat. The fishing jetty in Dumus village is situated around the mouth of the Tapi river. There are two fishing jetties here, one constructed by the fisheries department and the other by people themselves. Industries such as Reliance and ONGC are located around the area. Fishermen mostly indulge in fishing in Tapi river. Major problems are posed to the fishermen by industrial effluents and the ships from Magdalla port. Fishermen complain that the river is being used as a dumping ground of effluents by industries and the Surat Municipality Corporation. They also face problems from the ships crossing above the nets implanted in the water for fishing.
According to the office of the assistant fisheries director in Valsad, there are 23 fish landing places and five fishing jetties along the 63-km-long coastline of the district – at Umargaon, Kolak, Umarsadi Macchiwad, Maghod Dungri and Kosamba. There are about 73,700 fishermen and 2,400 fishing boats in Valsad district. According to President of the Gujarat Vahanvattu Macchimar Sangh, Valsad, DilipTandel, a major problem faced by the fishermen in Southern Gujarat is the absence of a good fishing jetty. The fishermen have to go to ports in Saurashtra (Okha and Porbandar) or Maharashtra (Majgav) to unload their catch. The fishermen unloading their catch at Maharashtra face hostility from the fishermen over there.
The Macchimar Sangh and the fishermen in South Gujarat have been pressing for the construction of a modern fishing jetty. The government had sanctioned a plan for constructing a jetty in Umargaon, but there was a parallel plan for the construction of a commercial port, which led to wide agitation among the fishermen in the area. The leader of the agitation Col Pratap Save succumbed to his injuries sustained in police custody in 2000. Later, the government scrapped the plan for the construction of both the fishing jetty and the commercial port. The present jetty in Umargaon is in a dilapidated state, though there is a Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) office in Umargaon which levies port charges.
Presently, the only viable fishing jetty in south Gujarat is in Dholai in the Navsari District. The jetty is 100 metres long. The water is too shallow and therefore creates navigational difficulties for the fishing boats. The fishermen presently demand that fishing jetties be built in Bhadeli and Hingraj.
In Maroli, which is 60 km away from Valsad town, there are 130 boats that go fishing from this village. Out of these 100 boats go to Okha due to lack of basic facilities locally. Only 30 boats fish around the area. The villagers in Maroli are concerned that the protection wall isn’t high enough to prevent the sea water from entering the village around mid-August, when the tide is the highest. They also face the problem of industrial effluents being released into sea water from Sabero Chemical Company, situated in Sarigam. The villages of Umbargaon, Sarigam, Vapi, Maroli ,Khatalwada and Shrigam are affected by this problem.
Another problem that came up was the issue of health of the fishermen. When they are out in the sea for a longer period, and are in dire need of medical assistance, they cannot avail medical services. Even when they come back to fishing jetties, there is no immediate medical assistance to be found. Maroli’s primary health centre (PHC) is seven km away from the village. Water supply hasn’t been provided for by the government. The fishermen also complained of lack of ration shops in the area.
Lack of insurance is a major problem for fishermen. Even though there is scheme in place for insurance, it stipulates that the fisherman has to be a member in a cooperative society to avail the benefits of the scheme. The fishermen mostly are not aware of this fact. Gujarat Vahanvattu Macchimar Sangh, Valsad, has made efforts in this regard. Once a fisherman dies in sea, the body is rarely found; in such situations the insurance money is withheld for seven years.
In the Nargol village the villagers said that there are around 150 boats in Nargol out of which 15 boats go to Mumbai. The rest of them go fishing in the sea around the area and stay for 10 to 12 days in the sea. The smaller boats come back daily. The villagers pointed out that the current ceiling limit for the length of a fishing boat is 32 ft, beyond which registration is not allowed. Such small sized boats are not suited for a long stay at the sea. Moreover, there is also a limit on the number of fishing boats that are plying in Gujarat.
Since there are big fishermen who own about five to six boats each, the small fishermen cannot own boats. They also pointed out that both of these limitations do not exist in other states like Maharashtra and Kerala, and that they don’t get the benefits of the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) scheme for fishermen. Under the scheme, the fishermen are provided with boats with GPS and wireless instruments and the necessary fishing gear. The khalasis (crew members in a fishing boat) are issued biometric cards, without which they are not allowed to go out fishing in the ocean. Many of them don’t own a biometric card, as the government starts issuing the cards at such time that the fishermen are at sea. They recommended that the issue of cards begin during the monsoon when they are at home.
Porbandar and Junagadh
Fishermen in Porbandar complained that the jetty there is badly constructed. There are too many boats and not enough space in the jetty. In fact, it could be seen that the boats were so crowded that it would be impossible to get a boat out in the sea, unless other boats clear the way. The responsibility for maintenance of fishing jetties is with the GMB. The jetty has not been maintained well. There is also an issue with dredging, i.e. excavation of mud out of the shallow water body to clear the water way. The Mithapur Chemical industry is situated around the area, it releases toxic effluents into the oceans due to which the fishes perish. Similar to the fishermen in Southern Gujarat, the fishermen in Saurashtra also face the issue of lack of implementation of insurance schemes for fishermen. They are not receiving the benefits of the Sagarkhedu project.
There are about 1,500-2,000 fishermen in the In the Gogha village. Gogha has a fishing jetty that is in a rickety state. It is also the site for the Ro-Ro point ( roll-on roll-off) ferry services from Gogha to Dahej. The fishermen mostly belong to OBC. About 400-600 of them are Muslims and the rest belong to the Koli community. About 125 boats go out fishing from this village. They only venture out for about 15 days in a month. One of the main concerns of the fishermen is that they do not have any other livelihood opportunities for the rest of the month. Another concern is that the fisheries department forbids them from going into the sea to fish during the rainy season. Members of the Ghogha Macchimar Boat Welfare Association feel that such regulation is unnecessary, as they don’t go out in deep sea to fish. A third problem is that the district fisheries department has procrastinated the renewal of their registration. Documents were collected from them about three years back. Due to lack of registration, they are constantly stopped and questioned by the marine police.
The fishermen in the Gogha village are not aware of the schemes that are in place for their benefit. About three fishermen died at sea last year and their families did not receive any insurance. Similar to other fishing villages in Gujarat, According to the members of the boats association, the amount of fish stock has reduced up to 50 per cent due to destruction of fishes caused by effluents released from Nirma and Excel pesticide industries located around the area. The fishermen have previously sent the sample of dead fish and mud from the area to the Gujarat Pollution Control Board.
In Nana Ratanpar, Krushnapur and Kuda villages, there were about 150 ‘pagadiyas’ residing on the land allotted to them by the local authorities. They were displaced after they had to give away their land to the Modest Shipbuilding company. They were resettled in Krushnapur, where about 32 houses were built for them. Most of the fishermen have abandoned the houses as it is far away from the fishing areas. The land still belongs to the company, and the residents do not have basic amenities such as water and electricity. One of the fishermen said, “We have a house, but we have lost our business and the fishermen are wandering about looking for jobs”. Similarly, in Kuda village, about 20 farmers lost their agricultural land.
The Bhavnagar Engineering Company has planned construction of a thermal power plant in the area. The proposed plant is to be constructed in the Padava, Hathab, Khadasaliya, Bhadbhadiya and Aalapar. The plant would draw sea water for cooling, which would be released back into the sea. According to the proposed plan the pipeline for the above passes through the agricultural lands in Hathab. The farmers are worried about destruction of the agricultural land. They stated that if there is leakage and salt water trickles down into the soil, it would take years to reclaim the fertility of the soil. The public hearing was held in the Hathab Bunglow in July 2013. The villagers stated that the copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the company in Gujarati was not made available to the affected villagers.
Developmental projects proposed in the region suggest that things are not going well with the local people of the district. The Government of India has proposed the construction of a nuclear power plant in Mithi Virdi village. The farmers in the area have strongly opposed the project. Organizations such as Green Peace, Paryavaran Mitra and Utthan have visited the area and have supported the villagers. Land is proposed to be acquired from 14 villages. Public hearing for the same was held on July 6, 2013. Not very far away, Manar is the site for destruction of ship breaking waste from Alang. The government has acquired about 80 acres of land in this area. Khodiyar Salt pan workers or Agariya reside in the area along the Bhavnagar- Gogha road. They are mostly migrant workers coming from Rajasthan, who were not to be found, as work is not carried out during monsoons. About 30 per cent of them are from villages around. The state government has built them houses which is in a dilapidated state. They have no water supply.
Near Mahuva, there is a fishing jetty maintained by the GMB in the Katpar village. There was a desperate need for dredging and maintenance of the jetty. The GMB has allotted part of the area including the fishing jetty to the Indian Shipyard Ltd. The fishermen fear that alternate arrangements might not be made for them. They do not receive benefits such as diesel subsidy or insurance. There is also the issue of renewal of registration, due to which the marine police questions them. The documents of about 35 boats for new registration were submitted to the fisheries office about three years ago. They have not received it till date.
Agariyas reside in Victor village. They are employed at the saltpans of Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited (GHCL). They complain that they are not receiving any profits from their employers. GHCL has stopped the provident funds for about 300 workers. Agariyas also reside around, Chanch Bander, Pipavav and Devaka. The fishermen in Jaffrabad live in the land allotted to them by the GMB. It could be seen that most of the land had been washed away by the sea. The fishermen’s houses are presently located in such a way that the sea threatens to swallow them any moment now. The fishermen here do not have a fishing jetty. They have no water or sanitation facilities in the area and the women face problems due to this. The area also doesn’t have an anganwadi.
*With Centre for Social Justice