Ignatius Pereira

KOLLAM: “It was the fishing community which provided the first authentic information that the terrorists, who went on a three-day killing spree in Mumbai, had reached the city through the sea,” Harekrishna Debnath, chairman of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), said on Thursday.

Talking to The Hindu here from Kolkata over phone, he said that in the light of the terror attacks, the NFF intended to spread awareness among the fishing community all over the country on the need to complement the security agencies as information providers to protect the country’s more than 6000 kilometre coastline.

Mr. Debnath, who is also the convener of the National Coastal Protection Campaign, said that the three-day MFF general body meeting at Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu from December 14 would take up the subject earnestly. “Even historically, fishermen were the first line of defence along the maritime boundary of the country,” he said.

The fishing community had always been cooperating with the security agencies. But often they were not taken seriously. Instead of seeing them as the group with the biggest potential to make our maritime boundaries more secure, the security agencies often created problems for them. In fact, fishermen had been the main victims of terrorist and pirates, be it from Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he said.

In the wake of the Mumbai incidents, there should be a genuine relationship in an organised manner between the security forces and the fishing community.

There should be a formal understanding to bring the community to play a role in the national security loop as informants.

Mr. Debnath said that the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Notification would be a big challenge to national security. The notification would open up the coast for private ports, with immunity to the law. They also posed a challenge to the environment and the livelihood of the fishing community.

NFF secretary and president of the Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, T. Peter, said that the fishing community was instinctively coastal protectors. Fishermen were the de facto protectors of the 3 km coast of the Vikram Sarabai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram. The establishment may have CISF guards on the land, but the sea was under the vigil of the fishing community.

He wanted the government to support the efforts of the fishermen by providing them good communication equipment at concessional rates. Often the fishermen were the first to notice mystery vessels on the high seas off our coast, he said. But when the information was passed on to the security agencies, they were simply ignored.

He said granting permit to over 50 Indonesian fishing vessels to utilise the facilities of the Munambam habour near Kochi was not the right step in the present situation. Any vessel could misuse the permits to enter the harbour.