Fishermen - Soldiers of the Coast

How intervention of foreign companies has affected the CRZ law

and the fishing community

Interview by Vincent Benedict, Director, MJM Centre, Kerala

Very systematic interventions have been made to politically do away with the CRZ Act. Who are ones who are intervening? Major politicians and bureaucrats. These people are supposed to be the servants of the people and they are supposed to respect and take care of the interests of the people. They are the ones who are now infringing upon the right and the ownership of people in the coastal area. Hence intention of the CRZ is now being systematically endangered by those who propelled the whole process.


CRZ had been well intended to conserve the coast and the coastal environment. That is most welcome by the fishing community. It was intended to protect the coastal environment. But very tactfully, the coastal space was divided into three categories. In the first category no construction is supposed to take place. In the second category construction and conservation should be taken care of. In the third category there are fisherfolk villages.

What is happening now is construction, mining and everything is happening very close to the shore. That is the most protected area. When tourism flourished, coastal tourism was promoted and the coast was privatized for the people who could invest there.

Again the third thing is about the shrimp industry promotion. That is a monoculture practice and was intended by the World Bank. This is a major project of the World Bank and is being implemented in the Indian coast, especially because most polluting industry should be dumped in the Asian countries. And India was considered to be the most suitable place for the shrimp industry. This is being done very close to the shore. It has done away with the mangroves and has encroached upon the coastal space. Due to this there is not sufficient space for the waves to come and empty themselves without causing havoc to the environment. The space has been reduced due to so many factors.

About the mining aspect: Quite a lot of sand is being dug in the sand mining process, which means the coast is being consumed in the process. The coast has been reduced to minimal size. It has had an adverse effect on the fishery wealth. Because most of the rivers come and empty themselves into the sea. Now since there is no space for the strong waves to come and empty themselves on the coast it gets into the bar mouths and goes into the rivers. This means the fresh water animals and plants will get destroyed. The cultivation and agricultural products also get destroyed due to increase in salinity in soil.

Hence now CRZ has done havoc due to these modern and commercial enterprises being promoted by the Government. That is why I said the environment is not protected. The fishing community is a part and parcel of the coastal environment. But this has never been strongly articulated or considered. This is actually encroaching upon the traditional rights of the fishing community. This traditional right has been considered by the global justice norms as a human right. Hence all these modern encroachments under the guise of development are encroaching upon the traditional right as well as the human right of the fishing community. This is non-conducive to the fishing community and the coastal environment. This is one aspect.

Another aspect is that due to the promotion of the shrimp industry, a monoculture practice in the food production sector is being promoted. India is a tropical country and a diverse water animal and plants are available here. Once you go into commercially imported species, you do away with all these varieties. Hence this is destruction of less commercially available species in our country. When you opt for commercially imported species, which is not produced for the local community and caters to the foreign community and foreign market. So the local community gets discarded even from the food production pattern of the country. Hence this is not friendly for the local communities, not only the fishing community but also the wider community especially the poor.

Second thing is, the food production pattern has been very tactfully changed under the pretext of foreign collaboration…collaboration with people who have the capability to invest. So where the traditional fishing industry has been labour intensive, this practice has been very systematically wiped out through capital-intensive interventions especially through tourism projects, shrimp industry and mining process. Hence the community values and collective values of the local people are also changing.

Due to shrimp cultivation and the aquaculture farms, what is happening is you go into profit motivated production. This means you want to produce more and get more profit. Say for example in a hectare of land you can grow 1000 seedlings… but profit oriented fellow would want 10,000 seedlings. This means more artificial intervention is needed to make sure that the seedlings survive and grow and give more profit. This also means there will be artificial aeration, artificial feeding. Medicine will also be put. Out of the total feed given at least one-third of the feed will not be consumed by the shrimps or the fish. It will go into the ground as sediment and slowly pollute. Any such food content will slowly salinate the soil. As a result the production capacity of the soil decreases and the soil slowly dies. You can say it is a very tactful process of desertification of the soil. And then for the second production you will have to pump out all the polluted things, which will flow into lakes or seas or into rivers and canals. This is detrimental to the water animals, flora and fauna and can destroy the whole environment.

For example what happened in Sumatra, in Indonesia the sea had been mined. And slowly bottom strata of the sea exploded. It was the shake of the bottom layer of the sea there, which has affected the whole sector here. Hence it is not the fisher people who are responsible for the havoc. It is the modern intervention.

Second thing, what happened in Orissa and Andhra cyclones? These are the coastal areas where a large number of shrimp industries sprung up and destroyed all the mangroves there. When the cyclones occurred there was no protective shield to save the coast and the coastal habitat. Fishermen are not responsible for this havoc. Prior to all these things they were very safe there. These people have been protecting the country in a way. They were the unpaid soldiers who protected the land for centuries. What we feel is that displacement of these people is being done very strategically. Once they are displaced from there, there will not be any barrier for the real enemies of the country to come and land in our coast. Ammunitions, everything can be very safely brought in. And they are the ones who say that the fishermen are in danger. Actually the country will be in danger if these people are removed from there. They are part and parcel of the coastal ecosystem and the environment. Hence their removal will be detrimental to the well-intended objectives of the CRZ law.

These people are being displaced from the costal areas. But there are urban people going to these coastal areas. Only when the fishermen live there can the coast be protected. They will go in for traditional practices of Mangroves and Casuarinas plantations, which can protect the coast. Who will take the real interest to conserve this? Those who survive on water and fish.

So they are the only hope for this nation and hence they should live in the coast itself. They are friends of the sea. They see the sea as their mother. They will be with their mother. They should not be estranged form the mothers fondling care.

Benedict on Living in Temporary Shelters

Women do not have any privacy for their personal needs there (temporary shelters for tsunami victims). Parents who have grown up girls with them they keep awake to see that their girl is protected. Because there are so many people coming from outside the community and staying there under the guise of construction of houses and so many other things.

People are coming from Bihar, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They are given only Rs. 65 per day for the labour. So to do justice to the traditional community you are doing injustice to the workforce or the labour force of the country. It is not a safe thing we are practicing. There is no safety there. Those who have any intention to assert the housing rights of these people, they should definitely consult these people. Their opinion should be respected and taken care of. They will definitely have ways and means to put forth and only with their participation and collaboration we should construct. Just because we are giving them the money we should not think that we are the ones to decide everything for everyone. Money should not be the dominating factor. The knowledge of these people, the traditional collectivity and community living of these people, the traditional recourse material availability, the local resource material availability…everything will have to be taken care of before you go into rebuilding of this community and rebuilding of their houses.


Interviewed by Priya C Nair and Shruti Kulkarni, CED
August 19 2006