By Anupama Vimal
Farmers are given special packages every time a drought or flood occurs but when it comes to fishermen, they have to be satisfied with just a free ration or some meagre assistance. Despite the fisherfolk demanding a comprehensive drought package during times of fish drought, the Kerala government is said to have not taken a positive approach.
With fish wealth declining over the past many years, the demand for a drought package similar to that given to the farmers has been a long pending demand. Noting that the last three months was a period of fish drought, Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikya Vedi President Charles George told kadapuram.com that the fishermen and their family were having a horrible life. “There is no fish in the sea. Many families are really struggling to meet both ends meet. This is the time of fish drought and the government should have come up with a drought package as is being given to the farmers,’’ he said.
Stating that his organisation had given a representation to the government on drought package several times, he said that the government had special drought packages or flood packages for the farmers. “The condition of the fishermen is even worse. Fish drought is similar to drought in agriculture. Both the conditions are similar but the farmers only get the benefit of a package,” he said.
George also mentioned that Karnataka had once come out with a drought package for the fishermen. Though countries like the US do not give any subsidy to the fishermen, a 5900 crore dollar package was proclaimed when there was fish drought in the Pacific and Atlantic region.
He said that drought package should be a comprehensive one that would help in stabilising the livelihood of fishermen. Free ration, strengthening of the Kerala Fishermen Debt Relief Commission, envisaging new welfare programmes all should be inclusive in the drought package,” he said.
On fish drought that was being witnessed for the past many years, he said that the traditional fishermen here mainly depended on sardine, which has seen a sharp decrease in the catch. The sardine catch that stood at 3.99 lakh tonnes in 2012 had an unexpected decline in the later years and stood at 45,000 tonnes in 2016. However, 2017 saw a steep increase of 1.27 lakh tonnes of Sardine catch. And this has now come down to 71,000 last year. “This year we are not expecting a good catch of sardine. As fishermen here mainly depend on sardine catch, their life is going to be still in misery. The fishermen have to give back huge loans and if there is no fish, then how he is going to pay back the loans?” he said.
George also said that the Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikya Vedi would embark on a campaign, demanding a comprehensive drought package similar to the one given to the farmers when their crops fail.
National Fish Workers Forum General Secretary T Peter also shared the same sentiments and demanded a famine or drought package. “Though demands for the welfare of fishermen are being raised from several quarters, the government is not giving any importance to the call of the fishermen. The government has been providing free ration at times of trawl ban and also when there is sea erosion or any other adverse weather conditions. But what we need is more than free ration,” he said.
He also came down heavily on the Centre, stating that the fisheries department comes under the Ministry of Agriculture but the fisheries sector has been completely neglected. “We never get the same treatment as that of the farmers,” he said.