As the Central Government proposes to privatize the coasts of India through the ambitious Sagarmala project, civil society groups working with fish workers under the umbrella of National Fishworkers Forum, have launched a campaign to highlight these anti-fisher community policies. The Coastal Yatra launched in Tamil Nadu travels from Kanyakumari District to Chennai from July 10 to 27th, to visit the coastal fishing villages along the Tamil Nadu Coast and highlight the policy changes vis-a-vis fishing sector which aims to support investment heavy industrial and fishing projects at the cost of destroying the livelihoods of small scale fisher communities.
Since BJP has come to power, the Modi Government has been pushing for industrialization in fishing sector that favors big trawlers, shipping companies and private port development conglomerates. In 2014, Modi pushed for allowing big ships to have more license for deep sea fishing, while fishing communities and groups such as NFF have demanded an end to deep sea fishing since it continues to deplete sea resources at an alarming rate. In response to these criticisms, the Government has promoted fisher cooperatives for deep sea fishing which would only increase the cost of production for fisherfolks and push them further into debt while it does not address the main criticism of depletion of ocean resources.
The latest move is the ambitious Sagarmala project launched by Modi Government as part of Make in India. The project aims to develop port led industrialization with an investment capacity of over 8 lakh crore rupees and envisages setting up 12 industrial clusters along the coast which would include industries of petro chemical products, thermal power stations, and various other sectors including apparel, footwear, food processing etc. As part of this initiative, the Government has begun the development of ports including Enayam International Container Trans-shipment Terminal (ICTT) in Kanyakumar District The negative impact of the construction is already felt in coastal regions from Ennore, Cuddalore to Kudankulam and Inayam. Fisher communities in Ennore are reeling from massive pollution from the various industrial projects including thermal power plants while the fisher people in Enayam are facing the threat of eviction and have already opposed the construction of the ICTT.
In this context, several groups including People’s Movement against ICTT, National Fishworkers Forum, Coastal Action Network, Aazhkadal Meenpidi Thozhilaalar Sangham, Vangakadal Meenpidi Thozhilaalar Sangham, Ramanathapuram Fishworkers Trade Union (RFTU), National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) and People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) have launched the Coastal Yatra under the slogan ‘Sea is for fisher communities’ to protect the collective rights of the community over coastal zone. They have called for end to projects such as Sagarmala and deep-sea fishing and promote small scale fisher livelihoods and labour welfare measures for fishery related workers especially those of women vendors.
The yatra launched in Neerodi of Kanyakumari is currently underway and has already visited over 60 villages in Coastal Tamil Nadu between Kanyakumari and Tuticorin. A photographers collective PEP Collective is also traveling with the group to document the lives and resistance of the fisher communities.
On 13th of July, the yatra stopped in Threspuram of Tuticorin where over 3000 fisher families live and interacted with the community leaders, women and youth. The campaign in Threspuram was started with sloganeering and was led by the lively parai isai and songs by NFF Coastal Yatra Troupe in TN. Comrade Kumaravel, Vice President of NFF emphatically stated that the fisher communities were not against development but questioned the logic of development for the rich while the poor are left behind.
The women in the village shared the concerns of the campaigners and said that the recent move by Modi Government to increase the GST on raw materials and fish only added to their woes. They also said that they are under constant threat of eviction and only a sustained resistance has ensured that they continued to live in the village. They were also apprehensive of depleting fish stock and pointed to an empty market which they said was usually very lively at that time of the day. The campaign slogans and issues stuck a chord with the workers as it reflected their everyday lives.
The yatra proceeds through various districts of Coastal and interior Tamil Nadu and aims to use this as a platform to launch a bigger campaign against the anti-people development of Modi Government. The course of the Yatra can be tracked here.