Artisanal fishers (those who fish for subsistence or local markets using traditional fishing techniques and small boats) are facing one of toughest challenges of their lives. Their home, the Indian coastline, has become the most-preferred site for nuclear and thermal power plants, SEZ projects (thanks to transport facilities via the sea and the availability of water for cooling turbines) besides the existing ones: ports, oil pipelines, tourism and prime residential real estate.
Last year, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences put out a map plotting the proposed projects on the coast: the dots leave no room for fishing villages. A research report by the Dakshin Foundation found that, on an average, every fishing village uses about 3 km beyond its boundary for parking boats, net repairs and other livelihood functions.
According to the Marine Census data, there are more than 3,200 marine fishing villages in the country. Most groups mentioned above and several hundred others are affiliated to the National Fishworker Forum (NFF), a four-decade-old non-partisan trade union of artisanal fishers, and a critical tool in their hands is the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification of 2011. It allows fishermen to play a role in the planning and enforcement of the Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMPs).
But it is full of vague terms and rhetoric and is not bound to any positive outcomes to guide its implementation. However, the clause instituting the District Level Coastal Committee (DLCC) carries the promise of enforcement because it takes the first step in viewing artisanal fishers as partners of the government in regulating land use on the coast.
The CZMP is the most crucial one to enforce regulations on a landscape that is constantly changing due to erosion, beach formation and cyclones and storms. It might seem like a technical appendage of the law but it carries within it the possibility of long-term livelihood and food security for close to a million coastal families, and an offer of progress at a pace and scale that is driven by them.
It is the only document that can determine justice from wrong, good politics from parasitic development. It has been 20 months since the DLCC clause appeared in the notification. Since then, most governments have only reached the stage of writing letters to the coastal district collectors to set up the DLCCs. The CZMPs were to be ready by September 30 but no state has completed it.
The World Fisheries Day was celebrated on Thursday and the best way to thank artisanal fishers, the ones who bring food to our plates with the gentlest footprint on nature, would be to get the DLCCs up and running and let them be the drafters of the CZMPs.
Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon are with Namati-Centre for Policy Research Environment Justice Program
The views expressed by the authors are personal