Their earnings dwindle after federation gets fishing licence

Families of the migratory fishermen’s community (burude bestaru) in parts of Hassan and Alur taluks, who are dependant on the Hemavati reservoir for their livelihood, are in dire straits. Fishing in the reservoir has been granted to a cooperative federation and their earnings have dwindled drastically.

The Department of Fisheries granted fishing lease in the Hemavati reservoir to the Karnataka Cooperative Fisheries Federation for a period of five years from 2012, amid protests from the fishermen community. Fish caught in the reservoir has to be sold to the federation and at the price it fixes. “We sell fish at Rs. 40 per kg to the federation. We can’t keep even a kilogram as food. If we want fish for lunch, we have to buy it at Rs. 80 per kg from them,” said Kumar, a fisherman camping at Siddapura. The federation has appointed representatives across the reservoir to keep a watch on fishing activities.

“The fishermen are able to get Rs. 40 per kg for the fish they catch only after repeated protests. As they are not economically strong to apply for tender, they are forced to work for others,” said Mari Joseph, State convener of the Dalit Vimochane Manava Hakkugala Vedike, who has been leading fishermen’s protests.

The community earlier fished here freely by obtaining licences from the Fisheries Department after paying a fixed fee. They would sell their catch for about Rs. 60 to Rs. 70 per kg. The fishermen’s community is spread over different villages located on the banks of the backwaters. They migrate to different river banks depending on their earnings.

The community, now settled on the banks of the backwaters of the Hemavati reservoir in Siddapura, Alur taluk; Shettihalli in Hassan taluk; and neighbouring villages, are native of T.B. Kaval village in Chikmagalur district.

“Any water body for us is like a farmland for a farmer. Now, we have lost our land and fishing to others,” said Nagaraj, fisherman, adding that the entire community is landless and knows no other profession.

On an average each family earns Rs. 200 by catching five kg fish a day. That is insufficient to meet the requirements of a family. “We are not allowed to fish every day. We go to the waters only when we are told to,” said Mr. Nagaraj. The federation has the authority to book cases against those who catch fish in the reservoir against their wishes.

Mr. Nagaraj and others of his community have never gone to school, but hope that their children will get some education. “We dream of our children getting quality education. But with the meagre sum we earn, it is impossible,” said Raju, a member of the community.

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