Fishermen here, are drowning in a sea of grief – BusinessLine

Narayan wakes up every day at 2 am in his tiny fisherman’s shack, close to the Puri beach in Odisha. He checks his gear, calls out to his mates and sails in his wooden boat into the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Returning after seven hours of hard work, he sometimes has fish worth just ₹200, which he has to share with three others. So, he is forced to go back fishing to try his luck again.

Narayan is not excited about the forthcoming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in his city, despite the presence of high-profile candidates such as Sambit Patra of the BJP and Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal, and he is not apologetic about it too.

“None of them came to us to seek our vote, we had nobody who could at least listen to our problems. Why should we care then?” he said.

It is not the daily toil that Narayan and the 200 other families here are unhappy about. It is the continuous government apathy towards their needs, broken promises and the poor implementation of schemes that have left them frustrated.

“Our families have been fishing here for over a thousand years. All this land, where the fancy hotels have come up, once belonged to us. But we don’t have permission to even set up a small office despite many pleas to the district officials,” said Ram Chandra Behara, who was recently appointed General Secretary of the Budima Prathomiko Matsyajibi Society that represents about 200 fisher families in the Goudabad Sahi Puri area.

He said all fishers in his area were registered with the Fisheries Department of the Odisha government but are deprived of benefits.

“After cyclone Phailin ravaged our boats, equipment and houses in 2013, the government promised us a boat each. Of the 200 fishermen here, only 30 got it. This created bitterness within the community,” said Behara.

What bothers the community most is that they haven’t yet been given ownership pattas (a title deed of property) of their shacks despite living there for years.

“Every election we are promised that we will finally get our papers but nothing moves. The BJD has been ruling for 19 years. Does it take that long?” said Sout Karliya.

Another long-pending promise made was of a cyclone-proof house. “Politicians and officials came to inspect a piece of land, but it never got built. We don’t matter to the authorities,” said Karliya.

The biggest threat for fishermen here is from ships equipped for deep sea fishing. They venture into their waters and scare away the fishes near the coastline.

Eeng Balram, another fishermen, said: “We have been told to report these fully-mechanised ships that come from places like Paradip and Visakhapatnam. But by the time we manage to call the authorities, the damage is done. This is the reason why our catch has fallen so drastically.”

When Puri goes to polling on April 23 and April 28, many fishermen would queue up to cast their vote. “But we don’t really know who will bring change for us,” said Behara.


« »