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Distressed Maharashtra fishermen await new policy

Fishermen catching fish

Nagpur : Around one lakh fishermen and their families in Maharashtra are reeling under distress as the state government has failed to come out with a new policy for fishing rights and contracts.

The contracts ended in June this year and despite orders from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to formulate a fresh policy, the Fisheries department is yet to act, thereby leaving the fishermen community in lurch.

In the absence of fresh guidelines and instructions from the state government, the Fisheries department has barred fishermen’s co-operatives to operate, and stopped them from fishing in 900 reservoirs and tanks that are under irrigation department and given on lease to Fisheries department, which in turn hands out contracts to fishing co-operatives for five years starting in July every year.

“The failure to act in time has brought fishing activity to a virtual standstill leaving hundereds of fishermen working in each of the 900 tanks without livelihood. What is a matter of greater worry is that the most important time of annual seeding and stocking of July-August is running away.

If an urgent decision is not taken in next few days. It will be too late and fish production for the whole of next year will be bleak leaving traditional fisherfolk to starvation,” said Mannu Datta, Convener of Save Tanks Action Committee, a local NGO.

The fishermen who operate through co-operatives that get a five-year contract from the Fisheries department got neck deep into trouble after the previous Congress-NCP government on June 26, 2014, approved a new policy, Datta, a trade union leader, told PTI.

By this order, registration of new co-operatives was allowed. This new policy left the old cooperative societies at a disadvantage as they faced stiff competition from dubious co-operatives floated by big-time contractors and businessmen.

Poor traditional eking out a living could not stand new cooperatives that enjoyed clout and money power. Unable to face the unfair contest they vehemently protested through a agitation at Ramtek in May, he said.

Responding to this, on May 17 this year, Fadnavis withdrew the two-year-old order. He then told the Fisheries officials to come out with a new balanced policy.

But what added to the woes of the fishermen folks was that senior BJP leader and Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse who was also holding the Fisheries portfolio, had to resign in the wake of a series of allegations against him recently.

The department’s work was then being looked after by the already overburdened Fadnavis.

Earlier this month in a reshuffle, Mahadev Jankar was given the Fisheries ministry.

Datta is also perturbed over possibility of the proposed policy doing more harm than good.

“I have suspicion that the Fisheries department is thinking of giving 20-large reservoirs to the state-run Fisheries Development Corporation. The Corporation which now has control of five big reservoirs is loss-making entity. Giving sublease of the reservoirs and tanks to the corporation would hit the traditional fishing co-operatives and new fishing rights may be given through open auctions,” said Datta who has knocked the doors of High Court against the co-operative department.

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