Fishermen step up protests against new coastal law

June 22nd, 2008 - 11:33 am ICT by IANS  

Chennai, June 22 (IANS) With the environment ministry’s deadline for raising objections to the draft of a new proposed coastal law drawing near, fishermen are stepping up their protests to the changes that they say “will take away the rights of traditional fishing folk”. The draft notification, in English, on the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) 2008, has been put on the website of the ministry and invites objections within 60 days from May 1.

Few fishermen understand it.

The National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) has asked the government to immediately withdraw the “ill-conceived draft CZM notification” saying, “it will not only adversely impact the fragile ecological system and marine life but also take away the means of livelihood from India’s 10-million fishing community”.

The NFF has now appealed to 88 members of parliament from India’s coastal districts to oppose the ICZM in parliament, which will have to okay the legislation for government to be able to enforce it.

The NFF has launched a nationwide campaign, the Machhimar Adhikar Rashtriya Abhiyan, against the CZM and has begun a long march from Jakho in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat on May 1. It is to end at Kolkata on June 27.

In July, they will mount a Fisher People’s March to parliament. “We demand that all efforts to replace the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification be stopped until a comprehensive legislation is enacted,” the forum has said.

Kerala has as many as 14 MPs from coastal constituencies, with Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed from Ponnani. In Karnataka, three BJP MPs are from coastal districts.

In Tamil Nadu, at least 17 MPs are from coastal districts, with important ministries like finance, shipping and road transport, environment, home affairs and communications with MPs from coastal districts.

In Andhra Pradesh, there are 14 MPs from the coast, with two of them ministers. Goa has two, Daman & Diu and Puducherrry one each. Maharashtra has 11 and Gujarat 14 MPs from coastal constituencies, while the states of Orissa and West Bengal have six MPs each from the coast.

NGOs working in the conservation sector like Kalpavriksh and Atree have objected to the new notification.

In a joint letter sent to Environment Secretary Meena Gupta, the NGOs pointed out: “It is a discriminatory document that allows a number of new stakeholders to enter the coast while ignoring the claims of those who have been traditionally linked to the sea and have been the real owners and protectors of the coast.”

“The new draft notification presents a formula for management of coastal areas without drawing from the long-standing implementation problems of its predecessor, the CRZ Notification, and it attempts to do away with the minimal level of protection presently available relying instead on unclear ICZM processes.”

At a Chennai meeting earlier this month, fishermen demanded that the CZM notification be translated into Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and other national languages so that its content can be understood by all members of their communities.

“A draft notification in English is a cruel joke on these fishermen,” NFF leader Harekrishna Debnath says.

Fishermen’s representative from Tranquebar, on the Nagapattinam coast, P. Kandasamy who is the convenor of the Singaravelar fishermen’s movement for livelihood rights also complained, “We were told that the new draft notification restricts fishing only to the territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the coast). Our village alone has about 4,000 fisherfolk families. The restriction is bound to affect almost the entire community of about 25 lakh (2.5 million) fishermen in the state.”

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