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Fishermen turn to inland waters for a living

By Saptarshi Bhattacharya

CHENNAI, FEB. 19. A group of tsunami-affected fishermen have turned away from the sea to seek a livelihood in shallower waters.

Unable to go to sea with their damaged boats, the fishermen from Nainarkuppam near Uthandi has taken up the job of cleaning up a decades-old pond in Pallavaram. They brought in a motorised catamaran to take them to the middle of the two-acre pond and clear the weeds and wild growth. And the residents of Pallavaram and surrounding areas have welcomed the initiative by the Pallavaram Municipality, as much as the fishermen themselves.

The fishermen said they were forced to take up jobs as daily wage labourers in the city and outskirts as they could not go fishing with damaged boats. The loans promised by the Central and State Governments were not forthcoming too.

They said the banks told them that loans could not be provided now because the Central relief funds had not reached the financial institutions yet.

The State Government was prompt in providing interim relief and funds for damage to houses but the long-term rehabilitation programmes are yet to take shape.

Odd jobs

"Many of us were already in debt, having spent several thousands of rupees in purchasing new boats just before the tsunami struck," said C. Panchamirtham, a fisherman. "So, we are taking up odd jobs wherever they are available."

The group of eight fishermen from the hamlet has already played its part in clearing up a major portion of the pond, once called Ramaswamy Chetty Kulam, according to revenue officials.

"There was no pond when we first came here last week," said Mr. Panchamirtham.

"All we could see were long weeds and wild growth surrounded by houses and shops on all sides."

They brought in anchors from the village, dropped them at one end of the pond and pulled them using strong ropes towards the other side. This way, the thick vegetation floating on top of the water moved to one side.

A front loader scooped off the vegetation for transportation to dump yards.

Another group of labourers moved around the pond on makeshift rafts made out of tree branches and plastic drums.

Years of neglect and sewage discharge had made the pond water poisonous, said V. Santhanam, president of the Federation of Residents and Welfare Associations of Pallavaram.

"It is indeed a welcome sight that the municipality is restoring the pond before summer."

P. Kuvendran, Commissioner, Pallavaram Municipality, said the pond was left unattended for over 30 years and had been encroached from all sides too. The municipality had written to the revenue administration to clear the encroachments. Inflow of sewage had also been arrested, he said.

During the next one month, the municipality would drain out the water and let the water body dry up before desilting it.

Tracing the history of the pond, M. Chandrakesavan, a resident, said it was gifted to the Tirupporur Murugan temple by a landlord to be used as a resting place for pilgrims. The residential colonies came up on the banks of the water body.

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