Evicted fisherfolk seek restoration of rights
Pradip Chatterjee
[email protected]
Kolkata, 16 August
Around 10,000 poor fishermen who were evicted from Jambudwip, an isolated island situated in the Bay of Bengal about 8 km to the southwest of Fraserganj in South 24-Parganas district have written to the Chief Minister urging her to restore the traditional right of the fishers to indulge in seasonal fish drying activities on the island.
The eviction took place in 2003, affecting the livelihood of around 10,000 people belonging to the fishing communities working on the island and thousands of fisherfolk and people who were engaged in transport and trade of dry fish.
It was alleged that these fisherfolk, who sorted and dried fish caught from neighbouring waters from October to February every year, were destroying the environment.
In 2003 the Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, ordered eviction of the fisherfolk from Jambudwip. In August 2003, the local fishermen’s association of Jambudwip, along with National Fishworkers’ Forum, appealed to the Supreme Court against the CEC report, seeking their traditional rights back.
In July 2009, the Expert Committee appointed by the MoEF and headed by Dr. M S Swaminathan said in its report "Final Frontier" that the fisherfolk were not harming the environment in Jambudwip and derided the their forcible eviction from Jambudwip as an example of "conservation without people". In 2004, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had filed an affidavit in the SC saying that if the state government agrees to give land on Jambudwip to these fishermen then the Ministry would have no problems with that. The state government agreed on giving 100 hectares of land in 2004 to these fishermen to continue their activity and also submitted that they are ready to provide another 100 hectares for "compensatory afforestation." The case is still pending in the Supreme Court. Organisations of fishermen had appealed to the chief minister to take measures so that evicted fisherfolk can continue with their seasonal fish drying activities on Jambudwip. In the letter, Mr Debasis Shyamal, Secretary Dakshin Banga Matsyajibi Forum and Pradip Chatterjee, Secretary, National Fish Workers’ Forum said that for the seasonal fish drying activities, use of only 200 hectares out of the island’s area of more than 2000 hectares would suffice. The fisherfolk, in their own interest, will work for proper afforestation in the rest of the island’s area.