“The sea and the coast belong to the coastal communities, and these rights could not be bartered away” resolved a consultative meet on protection of livelihood rights of fisher-folk held here recently.

The consultative meet jointly organised by Coastal Action Network(CAN), Vangakadal Meen Thozhilalar Sangam and Singaravelar Livelihood Movement, witnessed participation of over 110 panchayat members from 24 villages of Karaikal and Nagapattinam.

Delineating the objectives of the consultation, Kumaravelu of Vangakadal Meen Tholilalar Sangam strode through the topics of the discussion. They included the impact of thermal power plants, commercial ports and harbours on the livelihood of the fisher-folk; ASEAN Agreement, Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Act 2009, Integrated coastal zone management programmes 2008, and Special Economic Zones and their impact on the rights of coastal communities.

The spurt of coal-based thermal power stations proposed to be set up in the district and the threat they posed to the fragile coast and the agricultural lands has caused concern, said Samikannu of Coastal Action Network. According to him, the threat of erosion and depletion of marine wealth due to dumping of effluents was real.

The draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2009 should be annulled in its entirety lest it found its way with amendments that would affect fisher-folk, said M. Sethuramalingam, of Singaravelar Livelihood Movement ,

According to Jesu Rethinam, Convenor, Coastal Action Network, though the fisher-folks’ struggles forced the government to withdraw the Coastal Zone Management Act of 2008, an Integrated Coastal Zone Management programme was proposed to be implemented in all coastal states of India. She called for joint action of fisherfolk with the National Fish Workers Forum to oppose anti-fisherfolk policies.

Contrary to the perception that SEZs increased employment opportunities, SEZs have further stripped people of their livelihoods by taking over their lands. People have been turned refugees in their own lands, said S. Rajendran, Singaravelar Livelihood Movement. According to Gandhimathi, Member, CAN, the Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN countries would post a challenge to an already technology-barren fishing practices of our fisherfolk.

The meet resolved to hold village-level relay hunger strikes to stress upon the State and Central Government to revoke the thermal power plants proposed to be set up in the Nagapattinam coast and to repeal the Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Act. State-level protests would be held in pursuit of the demand. A resolution was passed calling upon legal amendments to ensure that traditional rights of coastal communities are not bartered away.

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