Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday met representatives of the fishing community who put forth various demands pertaining to their business like need for a separate ministry, farming status for fisheries and more subsidies on diesel.
In a 40-minute interaction held at Versova fishing village which falls in Mumbai North West parliamentary constituency of CWC member Gurudas Kamat, fishing community representatives highlighted their demands and expressed fear that with land costs in Mumbai spiralling, builders were eyeing sprawling fish markets.
“We want to know on whose side are you?” they asked the Congress leader.
“I will always be with you,” Mr. Rahul replied adding that he had come to meet them and understand their views and not give a speech.
Supporting the demand for a separate fisheries ministry, he said that it was a good suggestion.
When Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan intervened to say that there is budgetary provision of about Rs. 1,600 crore for the animal husbandry ministry, under which the fisheries department falls, one of the locals said all agriculture ministers the state has seen are not from the coastal region and do not understand the nitty gritties of fishing business.
“They have no information of the sea. Like farmers, we do not get compensation, if there is drought (poor cache of fish in the sea),” another speaker pointed out.
There was also a demand for expansion of the Sasoon Docks in South Mumbai. Another local highlighted the need for loans from nationalised banks at low interest rate.
“Fishing is not a 12-month business. We need alternative jobs for livelihood,” said one speaker.
Another speaker said in coastal areas, various companies are given permissions in the name of tourism and it has created discomfort among the fisherfolk.
“There has to be a proper policy in favour of the fishing community,” he demanded.
Mr. Rahul told the gathering that like fishermen even the farmers feel a lot needs to be done for them.
“In the last ten years, the central government has worked to lay a solid foundation for sections of the society so that they feel secure,” he said.
He said the fishing community needs representation in the Legislative Assemblies and Parliament to get their voice heard.
“The job of the Congress party is to empower the women and youth,” he stressed.
Soon after the interaction, Rajashree Bhanjee, president of the Marol Bazaar Maasli Vikreta Koli Mahila Sanstha, told PTI that she expressed fear before the Congress leader that fishermen’s land might be taken over by builders.
There were 37 fish markets in Mumbai and all belonged to the municipal corporation.
“Kolis (fisherfolk) have no stake in these premises. We fear builders might take them over. Similarly, subsidies in diesel should be enhanced,” she said.
Those in the gathering found Gandhi to be “endearing” and “one among us”, she said.
“He could have just given a speech and gone. But, he spent time to interact with us even though it is because elections are round the corner,” she said.
To a question that opinion polls and surveys do not show Gandhi in positive light, Bhanjee said, “We don’t find him that bad.”