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Fishworkers Delegation Scores CMZ Victory

Fishworkers to be consulted prior to any new legislation/notification
Separate Fisheries Ministry under consideration

Press Conference at Press Club, July 3, 2009, New Delhi


(A Federation of State Level Trade Unions in India)

The Ministry of Environment has agreed to drop the proposal to replace the current “Coastal Regulation Zone” (CRZ) notification with a controversial “Coastal Management Zone” (CMZ) notification. Minister Jairam Ramesh conveyed this to a delegation of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), which met him in Delhi on July 02, 2009. The delegation took up a number of issues pertaining to India’s 20 million strong traditional fishing community with Ministries of Environment and Forest, Agriculture, Labour and Home, and the ILO. The delegation also met the President of India.

Shri Jairam Ramesh told the delegation that the Ministry is willing to drop the current CMZ notification that lapses on July 22, 2009 and will start a dialogue with the fishing community on the best way to manage the coast. He has agreed to a series of five consultations in Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Cochin, Goa and Mumbai with fishing community representatives of all the nine coastal states before August 31, 2009. He assured that the Ministry will respect the customary rights of the fishing communities.

The NFF delegation met with the President of India, Ministers of Agriculture, Environment, Labour and Home, MPs of coastal states, key officials and representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This visit by a NFF delegation was a follow up of their Kutch-Kolkata march along the entire coast last year and the subsequent agitation in Delhi over a charter of 16 demands. These demands include the scrapping of the new Coastal Management Zone notification, enactment of a comprehensive legislation to regulate fishing in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the ratification of the ILO’s “work in fishing” convention and the waiver of the debts of fishermen and fisherwomen on the lines of the debt waiver granted to farmers.

The delegation insisted on the MoEF implementing the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests headed by Rajya Sabha M.P. Dr. V. Maitreyan, which submitted its report to the Parliament on March 20, 2009. The standing committee has recommended an elaborate consultation with the fishing communities as a pre-condition for any legislation or regulation by the MoEF. It has also recommended a comprehensive legislation (on the lines of the Forest Rights Act) that protects the rights of the fishing communities rather than the issue of a mere notification by the MoEF.

Parliamentary Standing Committee has clearly stated the following:

1. Almost everywhere, it was asserted before the Committee that CRZ is still a preferred piece of legislation to CMZ Notification, 2008 because the former has succeeded in containing pollution and encroachment along the coastal areas to a large extent, whereas, it was felt that CMZ Notification is a replacement/substitution of CRZ Notification in its amended form with greater possibilities of misuse. One of the greatest apprehensions about the CMZ Notification was that it proposes legalization and encouragement to industrial corporate activities along the coasts in the garb of management methodologies. It was widely apprehended that this Notification will significantly curtail the accessibility of the local community to the shore and sea resources and serve the economic interests of the corporate sector/large investors like tourism industry, refinery, mining etc.

2. Local coastal communities almost unanimously voiced that protection of coastal ecology and recognition of basic rights and livelihood of the local communities over the sea and the coast should be at the heart of any coastal zone planning. The fishermen were of the view that coastal management plan should be framed by taking them into confidence and that mere mention in the Notification – “There would be no restriction of fishing or fishery related activities of local communities” is not enough to instill confidence among them. They need to be involved, included and integrated in the future opportunities related to the Coastal Zone. The Committee also feels that in a democratic country like ours the preferred approach should be bottom up – public participation in planning and development rather than top down – decisions made by Govt. and not involving people in inclusive growth opportunities and practices in matters which have far reaching consequences on a vast population solely dependent on their tradition vocations and way of life. It is primarily keeping in view this concern that peoples’ participation in policy formulation becomes all the more important and inevitable.”

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The NFF sought the intervention of the MoEF in the issue of the Jambudweep fishermen displaced by the unfair implementation of the Forest Protection Act and the imposition of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) without consulting the fishermen. The Minister has agreed to sympathetically review these.

The NFF delegation was assured by the Minister for Agriculture Shri Sharad Pawar and Prof KV Thomas (MoS) that the Ministry has agreed to consider the waiver of bank loans for small scale traditional fishermen and women. The Ministry sought more details on the bank loans provided by banks to small fishworkers.

The Labour Minister Shri Mallikarjun Kharge has promised to ratify the ILO Convention on Fishing and enact required legislations.

The delegation met the President of India Smt. Pratiba Patil and presented to her the demand to set up a separate Ministry for fisheries. This is in view of the current situation that decision making affecting the fisheries sector and fishing communities are spread over a number of Ministries and departments. The President listened with interest to the various problems faced by the fishing communities and enquired in detail the problems faced by Maharashtra fishermen on account of the increased drilling for petroleum in their traditional fishing grounds.

In the meeting with the representatives of the ILO, the delegation sought ILO’s collaboration in ensuring the ratification of the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188) and the enactment of national and state level legislations to bring the benefits of the ILO convention to Indian fishwoerkrs. The ILO agreed to facilitate the process of discussion with the concerned Ministries, state Governments and the Central Trade Unions.

NFF understands this round of negotiations on key issues as a success of its organizational strength and legitimacy of its demands. However, it believes that the process will be ongoing and at every point, NFF will raise the voice and concerns of the traditional fishworkers of India. While NFF has agreed to be part of the consultations by MoEF towards improving CRZ mandate, it is clear that quality community participation in good strength alone can make sure that the concerns of fishworkers are not by-passed.

Hence, while agreeing, NFF is clear about the strategy to start fresh round of agitation on the issue of CMZ and others, if the fishworkers are not satisfied with the consultation procedure, after two rounds of the same.

The NFF delegation was composed of the following persons: Thomas Kocherry (EC Member), T. Peter (Secretary) – Kerala, Vasudev Boloor (Secretary) – Karnataka, RK Patil (EC Member) – Maharashtra, Sagar (senior member) – Gujarat, Ramesh Dhuri & Naredra Patil (EC Member) – Maharashtra. The delegation was accompanied by members of environmental, labour and human rights groups working together under the banner of Delhi Solidarity Group for NFF along with representative of South Indian Federation of Fishermen’s Societies (SIFFS).

T. Peter (09846063461)
Secretary, NFF

Vasudev Boloor (09923241641)
Secretary, NFF

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