Interview - Fr. Thomas Kocherry

 "Livelihood restoration of the fishing community after tsunami "
An interview with Fr. Thomas Kocherry


 (Interviewed by Priya C Nair and Shruti Kulkarni  in Thiruvananthapuram, 27 April 2006 )



Boats, boats everywhere but not enough fish to catch

If you look at the restoration, it is mainly in giving back kattamarums, nets and also boats. In the beginning it was okay like repairing. Generally people started going to fish. So that was okay. But when every NGO was trying to give more boats, more kattamarums, plywood. What is happening is plenty of kattamarums, plenty of boats are all over in Tamil Nadu. The same fishermen are getting different boats and kattamarums. So as a result they are trying to sell rather than going for fishing. Even some of the boats and plywood are sold at a very cheap price. So many people are going even from Kerala to buy boats from TN.

There are too many boats. It is over capacity. And as far as the fishermen are concerned they are not getting enough fish catch. This is a very general sweeping statement. I have not done any scientific studies on this. And maybe even after giving all the 75 per cent of boats and kattamarums are lying ideal on the beaches, everywhere. Generally there is not enough catch. So if there is a good catch they could go. But some of the seashore like where we are staying in Manavalkurichi there were good Vellas…there was a good catch. Even 3 lakhs, 4 lakhs in one shore seen. So that is like a lucky day rather than a regular catch. So in that sense as well as the nets and boats and kattamarums are concerned there are more than enough. But fishermen are not able to use them because there is not enough fish, there is no catch. This is the situation all over in Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu. So the livelihood issue is in a very very precarious situation.

Lessons from Tsunami: How to manage disaster?
I would not say that something went wrong. This is a sudden disaster. There is a sudden response. It is not a well-prepared, well-calculated response…it is not possible. Even by human situation it is not possible. But the best is being done. In the given situation I would say these are the best NGOs, the Governments and everything could be done. You can say there are plenty of mistakes but there is no use of saying that. You cannot blame anybody I would say. I think the Government has given land in most of the places. So the NGOs have constructed the houses. And they are quite good and a little far away the beach, which is for the safety. And that way housing and all has been done quite well generally.

But see when someone knows about the fishing in Tamil Nadu, somebody who knows how many boats are needed, somebody who could organize it, then it would have been better. But in the given situation that is not possible. The only way in which we can face a situation like this again for disaster is coming one after the other not only the tsunami like floods, anything can come. Earthquake and all is happening. So the best way this can be done is only by disaster prevention and management authority. It is an independent, autonomous, statutory authority. They have all the resources, infrastructure, better planning and everything. The Central Government has already started working on this. The bill is in the parliament. There was a committee appointed by the parliament in 2003. They proposed prevention and management authority on the lines of an independent election commission. So only that kind authority can be better prepared to face situation of livelihood and housing in a better-planned way. That is the only way. If the Government cannot understand this that is very sad. They want such an authority to be under their control. They already have chaos within their departments.They want to control everything. So such an authority will come under some department. That will not work.

This should be an autonomous an independent authority. SO they can have their own infrastructure, their own resources and planner so that any disaster situation can be faced. That is the only situation. That is the only way we can correct the situation.

Mechanization of boats: Threat to traditional fishermen
95 per cent of the tsunami victims are beach based fisher people who do beach-based fishing. This is the first time the Europeans, the western groups, the FAOs, are facing the beach-based people.They can only understand harbour based. And instead of helping these beach based fisher people, the FAOs and the Erupoean Commission have offered the mechanized boats and trawlers. Free! Aid! And also they have come with the package of helping with aquaculture. Because already the paddy fields are all salinated. So why not to have aquaculture there. So that is another way of getting rid of salinity.  So these two are going against livelihood issue. Definitely, that is not a solution. Again they are using the disaster situation to push their own agenda. So that is again destroying and displacing the traditional fisher people and the livelihood. So mechanization is not the solution. It is worse than the given situation. Already the beach-based vessels are more. Then mechanized boats will be more problematic. Already the UN is trying to have a ban on trawlers all over the world. The number of trawlers here is already more than the beach can take. So these trawlers will displace the traditional beach-base fisher people. And this will further make the livelihood situation worse than what it is now.

Tsunami came and went, but fishermen shall continue to fish:
I am completely against aquaculture. It will displace the traditional people and destroy their livelihood. The labour- intensive, beach based fishing will be destroyed by aquaculture. Embroidery and all, that is an alternative thing. That can go side by side. The fish-vending women if they can mange the fish vending and drying along with that. It is not an alternative at all. Embroidery, tailoring will be a side income. I don’t think there is any alternative employment brought forth anywhere. They cannot cut out from this fishing situation. Of course they can bettwe manage with the post harvest. If there is fish, they can use better technology for protecting it, like using ice etc and even for drying fish. So more income can be brought in within the given situation.

Solar dryer for drying fish?
Solar dryer is not a big solution. If there is a fish, I think the people can dry it. I don’t think anybody is wasting because there is no solar dryer. Solar dryer on a large scale is very expensive. And that will again centralize the income so a big number of women will be displaced. In the given situation they know how to dry the fish and salt. And they can manage.

Cooperative free from political agenda
Still the cooperative system is not functioning well. In Maharashtra cooperatives were working quite well on a large scale but now it has become quite problematic. Here in the given situation if it is not controlled by the politicians, if the fisher people can themselves manage the cooperatives 100 per cent, then there is no need for duplication because of the politicians or even by the NGOs. A cooperative being controlled by NGOs is also a problem. They don’t get the benefits like the NCDC and other benefits because they have to be a part of the Government cooperatives, otherwise they won’t get the benefits. So these are all the problems. What I am saying is that these have to be revamped. Fishermen can belong to only one cooperative and there should not be many duplication of cooperatives. Every fisherman should be a member to get maximum benefit. There should be loan and credit facility and the fish should be sold in an auction. It has to be a complete membership based cooperative. So that everybody’s needs are looked after.