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Ground Report: Cyclone, storm, expensive diesel and danger of going to Pakistan… Why are the marine fishermen of Gujarat angry with the BJP government?

Dwarka/Porbandar:Ismail Bhai, 72, lives on the seashore of Dwarka. Born here and has been fishing since he was 10 years old. They complain that the government is not doing any work for them. They do not get the benefits of the schemes because of their religion. They say we go fishing. The government also benefits from this. But we also buy water and drink it. School, not hospital. Then what are their expectations from this election?

Ismail Bhai says, ‘We have been seeing this government for 27 years. Where we were before, we are still there. When we go to the sea, we do not even know whether we will return or not. Many people have lost their lives here in the last five years. Many a times fish is not available as much as it is spent. But our situation has worsened in the last two-three years. One is the continuous cyclones, storms and then the rising price of diesel. What is development, we are far away from all this.

‘We haven’t even got a house to live in. We buy and drink water worth two thousand rupees every month. The water here is salty. Can’t drink it. There is a population of about 30 thousand here, everyone drinks water only after buying it. Anandi Patel had come. He had promised to deliver bore water. But what happened to him, I do not know. We are not even educated. If there is a government school then there is no one to teach in it. Even if the government wants our votes. But the truth is that no government paid attention to us. Yes, when there is an election, then we are definitely asked. He goes on to say.

ismail bhai

Only 15 days are left for the Gujarat Assembly elections. Political parties are making every possible effort to woo the voters. Ismail Bhai comes from the Machi community of Gujarat. The community that lives along the coast and catches fish from the sea for sustenance. About one and a half crore population in the state is directly or indirectly connected with the fisheries business. While the population of fishermen is more than five lakhs. In many seats, their number is so much that their votes can decide victory or defeat. This is the reason why all political parties are eyeing them. Just before the elections, where the ruling party BJP gave relief to fishermen on the purchase of diesel and kerosene, the Congress has given a 14-point guarantee. Aam Aadmi Party said that they will bring a guarantee card for fishermen.

marine fish production in india state wise

State wise statistics of marine fish production.

According to the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), Gujarat is India’s leading marine fish producing state with a coast length of about 1,600 km. By the year 2019-20, Gujarat’s share in national production was 7.01%, which is the highest in the country. There are about 29,000 registered fishing boats in the state, of which about 20,000 are active.

It is clear that the role of fishermen in the politics of the state matters. But what is their real problem? What is the reason for their displeasure with the government?

How effective is BJP’s election bet?
Just before the elections, BJP played a big bet. The government has announced to increase the quota in diesel and kerosene. Earlier fishermen could buy fuel only from the petrol pumps of the Gujarat Fisheries Central Cooperative Association or its sister cooperatives. Now you can buy subsidized diesel from anywhere. In case of kerosene, the per liter subsidy for on-board motor boats has been increased from Rs.25 to Rs.50. Boats running on petrol will also be covered under the kerosene subsidy scheme.

marine fisherman of dwarka gujarat

Fishermen from Dwarka, Gujarat preparing to venture out to sea

However, fishermen say that even though the government has made an announcement. But they are still not getting the benefit of it. According to Velji Masani, president of the All India Fishermen’s Association, who is also a BJP leader, fishermen will be greatly benefited by this decision of the government. They say that fishermen have been demanding this for a long time.

About 18 caste groups including Kharvas, Mohila Kolis, Machhiyara Muslims, Bhils, Tandels, Machchis, Kahars, Waghers and Selars are traditional fishermen. They have the maximum number of voters in Porbandar assembly constituency. While the result may change on Somnath seat. Apart from Porbandar, Veraval and Somnath, other constituencies like Dwarka, Mangrol, Rajula, Mandvi (Kutch), Kodinar, Una etc. have a sizeable number of fishermen voters.

Ground Report: The ‘saline’ truth of the farmers of Gujarat who feed the country with salt

Rakesh is a young fisherman from Porbandar. After graduation, they are pursuing their traditional profession. But they are also disappointed. Regarding this announcement of the government, he says, ‘The government has played a game in this. The government takes tax from us and the same is returning it to us. By increasing the price of diesel by Rs 12, the government reduced it by Rs 4. Even after this, 8 rupees kept going from our pocket. While the fish price is the same. The number of educated people in our community is very less. The government also knows this. Our earnings have decreased.

There is a fishermen’s forum at Porbandar. The name is Kharva Chintan Samiti. According to its president Jeevan Jangi, the government’s announcement will further increase the difficulties of fishermen. “The decision to allow fishermen to buy diesel from any petrol pump will only do harm,” he says. Actually the government wants to shut down the pumps of cooperative societies. Now the owner of the boat will not go 15 kilometers away with the boat to fill oil. Jangi was earlier in the Congress and is contesting from Porbandar on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket.

porbandar marine fisherman

Due to the dwindling number of fish along the seashore of Porbandar and the high cost of diesel, many fishermen are not going to sea.

Congress has also made many promises for fishermen. The Congress said that if its government is formed in the state, financial assistance of Rs 3 lakh and daily allowance of Rs 400 will be given to the families of fishermen lodged in Pakistani jails. Apart from this, a package of Rs 50 lakh will also be given to the boat owners. The Congress has also promised that the 14-point resolution-guarantees for fishermen will be implemented. At the same time, AAP has also said that if their government is formed, they will bring a guarantee card for fishermen.

Jangi says that the BJP knows that the fishermen are angry with them. That’s why the demands which were being made since five years, the government has now considered them at the time of elections. But it’s too late.

Why the resentment among fishermen?
Like Rakesh, Dharmesh Goyal is also young and belongs to the Machi community. He also has his own boat. They say, ‘We have always been voting for the BJP. It is not that this government has not worked for us. But when we go to vote, we will also remember the promises that the government fulfilled. Parking is a huge problem in Porbandar. The government had said that they would give us a place somewhere. But the matter is over. And the government does not take into account the owners of the boat. Our income has been badly affected due to diesel prices. First Corona and then Russia Ukraine war. Different weather conditions. The backs of the fishermen were broken. But the time has come to answer.

porbandar macchimar association

Mukesh Panjri, President, Fishermen’s Association, Porbandar

Javed of Dwarka points to another problem. They say that this government wants to remove us from the shores of the sea. They say that wooden houses or huts end up ruined in every year’s storm. In such a situation, we have built a small house by adding stones, so the government is saying that all this will be demolished.

Mukesh Panjri, President, Fishermen’s Association, Porbandar demands that the government should pay attention to the losses we are facing continuously. He says, “The cost of diesel is the biggest problem for us. Then the weather hit. For the last five, six years, there has been a lot of impact on the earnings of fishermen. The fishes are decreasing on the banks. But we do not get any help from the government. When the farmers who do farming have to suffer losses due to the weather, the government gives them compensation. But there is no such provision for us.

Fisherman's Association, Porbandar

Office of the Fishermen’s Association, Porbandar

‘Many companies have come up on the seashore. These companies cannot be formed without the help of the government. All their chemicals are being dumped in the sea. In such a situation, for the fish which we used to get on the shores, now we have to go many kilometers away. In such a situation the cost has increased a lot. 20 to 25% of the boats remain standing at our port. Those people are not going because the more the fish they do not get, the more the expenditure increases. Mukesh says.

Mukesh also tells that more than 500 boats of Gujarat are in Pakistan’s possession. And the same number of fishermen are lodged in their jails. The government should also take steps for these. There is no limit in the sea. By mistake illiterate fishermen go towards Pakistan. Still the fishermen come back if not today then tomorrow. The government takes initiative for them. But the boat could not come. The cost of a boat is 50 to 60 lakh rupees. In this the owner is ruined. And while that dance continues, a house of at least 10 people runs. The government should think about the boat owners. While this demand has been made to the government many times, not once.

Let us tell you that on 1st and 5th December, votes will be cast on 182 assembly seats in Gujarat. On December 8, it will be known whose government is in the state. BJP has occupied the throne of the state for 27 years.

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