Fishy Question Facing Government’s National Sagarmala Project Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala are protesting against the proposed shipping corridor

By Dominick Rodrigues

Panaji: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” goes the old saying of medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides. However, today eating fish seems to be a concern for fish-lovers especially in the state of Goa, which is facing a problem of chemical-laced fish that is coming in from neighboring states.

Constant checking at state border outposts by Goa Government officials netted many trucks of fish brought in by fish importers to feed the fish-hungry local market (which swears by the staple diet of fish-curry-rice), despite Goa’s fisherfolk trawling the high seas along its coastline in hauling sadly depleting sizes of catches.

While many Goans complain about the State fishermen’s fish catch mostly going abroad in the wake of better prices, the home market can do little to stop this export except urging the Government in this regard. When fishing is banned from June 1 till August end every year due to the fish breeding season in Goa, fish lovers depended on their marine table menu being met through local imports.

However now, to add to the fish-lovers’misery, Goa has been recently witnessing truckloads of fish coming in from Karnataka being stopped at the state border outposts and their fish being seized due to them containing a chemical called Formalin. The past few months have witnessed a controversy over such local imported fish being laced with a chemical called “formalin” by the importers to preserve it and which was discovered to be poisonous to humans. July 12, 2018 witnessed a raid and seizures of fish by FDA officials who found formalin-laced fishes being sold at the wholesale fish market in the industrial city of Margao in Goa.

The Goa Government’s effort to play down this issue – by claiming that the formalin present in imported fishes was within permissible limits – drew flak from both the public and opposition political parties. In a knee-jerk reaction to the formalin fish issue, the Goa Government led by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar banned fish imports for 15 days with the hope of local fishing beginning in August to supply the Goa market, instead of depending on neighboring states.

However, the formalin issue left its mark on the Goa fish scenario with the Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai (Goa Forward Party) being accused of having links with a +fish mafia led by Maulana Ibrahim – fish exporter. Fisherfolk in Goa have threatened to launch statewide agitations if the Formalin issue is not resolved by the Government.

Local Goa panchayats are demanding action by the Government. Navelim villagers are urging for treating formalin usage in preserving fish as criminal cases of “Attempt to Murder.” Other panchayats are seeking fish catch by Goan trawlers to be sold locally at subsidized rates with the excess being exported, and also demanding a judicial probe in the usage of formalin in not only fishes, but also in vegetables and fruits in Goa. One panchayat highlighted need to purchase +fish-testing kits for noting formalin content, while another urged the FDA for regularly testing formalin content in locally-sold fish.

At present, in a bid to avoid consuming formalin-laced imported fish, many people in Goa have resorted to going fishing with rods and nets alongside bays, rivers and even flooded fields. Fishing equipment shops too are doing booming business in this regard.

Meanwhile, highlighting its plans to increase share of freight transport through the coastal route from the present 7% to 10% by 2020, the Central Government says that this will result in saving between Rs 20 to Rs 25 billion. “Therefore promotion of Coastal Shipping is the topmost priority of the Ministry of Shipping,” Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Chemicals & Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandaviya said while inaugurating the International Maritime Conference and Exhibition 2018, organized by Institute of Marine Engineers (India) in Mumbai recently.

Highlighting the Government’s ‘Sagarmala Programme,’ the Minister said that the main focus of Sagarmala is Port-Led Development, to reduce logistics cost and enhance last-mile connectivity. Under this programme, over 600 infrastructure projects with investment of approximate Rs. 8.78 lakh crore have been identified, out of which 89 projects worth Rs. 14000 Cr. have been completed and 436 projects worth Rs. 4.18 lakh crore are under various stages of implementation, he said, adding that after completion of these projects, logistics cost is expected to reduce by Rs. 30,000 – 40,000 crores while creating one crore jobs including 40 Lakh direct jobs.

Mandaviya said the Ministry is working on developing 14 Coastal Economic Zones (CEZs), which will provide huge employment opportunities in coastal areas and lead to Port-Led development of such regions where once operational, they will ensure employment opportunities and economic upliftment of people there.

To promote cruise tourism along Indian Coast, Government has revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to facilitate Cruise Tourism like e-visa facility at five Sea Ports (Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, Cochin and Chennai), exemption of e-visa tourists from the requirement of biometric enrolments for a period of 3 years and reduction of Port Charges and construction of a new Cruise Terminals in 5 Major Ports in the country. As per estimates, this is likely to generate employment for 2.5 lakhs persons and generate revenue to the tune of 35,500 crores, he added.

However, fisher folk living in the coastal areas of the country including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and, Kerala are protesting against the proposed shipping corridor on the grounds that it endangers the lives of the fishing community.

The country recently witnessed a nation-wide protest across ports and harbours in the coastal states as thousands of fishermen and others turned up in a show of strength against the proposed shipping corridor plan. The protest areas included: Gujarat (Kutch, Porbandhar, Veraval),Maharashtra  (Mumbai Port, Ratnagiri and Malvan), Goa (Vasco fishing harbor), Karnataka (Mangalore, Karwar and Malppe), Kerala (Cochin port, Chellanam, Vizhinjam), Tamilnadu (Colachal, Thengapattanam, Muttam, Chinnamuttam and Nagapattinam and Ramnadu),  Andhra Pradesh (Guntur, Bapatla), Odisha (Bhubaneswar, Rajbhavan) and West Bengal (Contai and Diamond harbor).

The National Fishworkers Forum, which led the nation-wide protest on October 30, stated that it was against any proposed plan of a “Shipping Corridor” as it endangers the lives of all fishermen.

In Kerala, Member of Parliament K.V Thomas inaugurated the protests by assuring firm support of all fishing communities. MLA, Shri. M. Vincent was also in attendance.

In Maharastra, various fishing unions gathered in large numbers with support from Mahadev Janker, Minister of Cattle and Dairy Development, Fisheries, Rahul Navekar, Bhai Jagtap, Raj Purohit, Jayant Patil and many MLAs. Numerous political leaders in other coastal states expressed support for the fishing communities and their demands.

In Goa, hundreds of fishermen burnt an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi  to express their anger and opposition to the Sagarmala project.

West Bengal saw the fishing unions giving a memorandum of their fears and demands to the concerned Ministry, while Odisha and Tamil Nadu witnessed a turnout of hundreds of fishermen standing in solidarity with each other and against the proposed shipping corridor.

Narendra Patil, Chairperson, National Fishermens’ Federation (NFF) and T. Peter, General Secretary, both warned that if the government continued to establish the a shipping corridor, these protests would spread nationwide and reach Delhi also.

Meanwhile, with fuel prices rocketing sky high, fishing communities across the country are facing a tough time. Increasing diesel prices have added to the fisherfolks misery, especially for trawlers venturing into deeper seas and oceans for bigger fish.  While each fishing trawler uses around 5,000 litres of diesel per month, they need the fuel to venture further seaward to net a good catch. But less fuel means shorter journeys, a smaller catch of fish and being forced to fish alongside the canoes and paddle boats that seize smaller fish in the shallow waters of the coastline, one fisherman said.

In October, Odisha witnessed diesel prices topping petrol at above Rs 80 per litre. Elsewhere in the country, diesel prices crossed the Rs 75 per litre mark to affect the 900-strong trawler fishing community in Rameswaram. Fisherfolk in Goa demanded the Central Government bring diesel prices under the ambit of the goods and services tax. Many Kerala fishermen are leaving their traditional work for better paying jobs after discovering that fishing now bring in less earning s than before.

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