BJP fails to keep its 2008 election promise, lack of commitment irks fishing community

Although the five-year rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party saw a man from coastal Karnataka becoming the chief minister, albeit for a brief period, one of the key poll promises of the party specific to the region has remained unfulfilled.

When D.V. Sadananda Gowda became the chief minister following the resignation of scam-hit B.S. Yeddyurappa in August 2011, sections of fishermen had hoped that a comprehensive policy on fisheries — a promise made in the 2008 manifesto of the BJP — would be kept. Though the department of fisheries did put on its website what it called a “draft fisheries policy of Karnataka” and solicited objections, the attempts were half-hearted. Neither the department made any effort to circulate it among the unions nor did it get the draft copy published in Kannada. Some of the top district-level officers were unaware of the draft policy having been published on the department’s website.

Mr. Yeddyurappa, a couple of years ago, had admitted that his government had faltered in shelving the promise and had promised to pay attention to the issue.

In April, 2011, top BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, addressing the fishermen from the coast, had highlighted the plight of fishermen to whom, she said, many banks did not even give entry to their premises while being eager to welcome the elite. She had called for setting aside a part of the credit funds for fisheries sector through legislation. She had also demanded that educational and health facilities should be located closer to hamlets of fisherfolk. A leader of the fisherfolk, who did not like to be quoted, said though the government disbursed loans at a lower rate of interest (4 per cent) through cooperative societies and allocated higher quantity of diesel for boats, the government failed to bring in a policy.

“Nobody is interested in the welfare of the last man.” On the other hand, lack of unity among the associations of the fishermen was to blame for their failure to exert pressure on the government to bring in a policy for fisheries. “We do not have a genuine leader working for the welfare of fishermen,” he said.

Office-bearers of Karnataka Coastal Fishermen’s Joint Action Committee had sought audience with different chief ministers time and again but in vain.

Promises

The 2008 BJP manifesto, “Sankalpa”, stated that a comprehensive fisheries policy would address the problems such as construction of jetties, their maintenance, dredging of harbours, cold storage plants and ice plants, houses for fishermen, loans for fishermen at 3 per cent interest rate for purchase of boats and nets, and encouragement to inland fisheries.

Problems

The government recognises “stagnation in marine capture and fisheries production”. While experts differ on whether the marine resources are over-exploited, the State government considers it a challenge to ensure sustainable development of marine fisheries factoring in ecological issues.

Prospects

The officially estimated annual potential of the Karnataka’s “Mackerel Coast” covering about 87,000 sq km waters is 4.25 lakh metric tonnes though the actual production was 2.49 lakh tonnes in 2009-10. That year marine exports stood at 57,359 tonnes valued at Rs. 391.12 crore.