Staff Reporter

Fishing communities along the coast see it as threat to livelihood

Thiruvananthapuram: The rampant use of country bombs called `thotta' to catch fish at sea during the lean season is threatening to upset the fragile peace between traditional fishermen communities along the communally sensitive coastal area of the district.

Recently, the Police, Coast Guard and Marine Enforcement conducted operations to check the disruptive method of fishing along the Poonthura-Perumathura coastal stretch.

Police officials said the illegal use of thotta had often resulted in clashes between fishermen at sea. Often fishermen from other States explode country bombs under water when they sight a shoal to make a quick and easy harvest. The explosions set off high-pressure underwater currents that destroy all marine life in a large radius.

The country bombs have also taken a heavy toll on the fragile marine environment. The illegal fishing practice has been identified as the prime cause for the destruction of submarine reefs, which are the natural hatcheries for fish. The indiscriminate method of killing fish also results in the destruction of eggs and fries.

A member of the Kerala Independent Fishworker Federation (KIFF) said though hundreds of fish die in an explosion, only a few can be scooped up and most end up being swept onto the beaches in a rotten state.

A large section of fishermen in the district view the use of thotta as a direct threat to their livelihood and any dispute over its illegal use for fishing quickly assumes a communal colour and causes tempers to run high, the police said.

It is also pointed out that country bombs similar to the ones being used at sea had been used during the Vizhinjam riots in 1995. Similar explosives were used to set houses on fire during a communal clash at Poovar.

There is also mounting concern in the police department that nitro-glycerine based explosives are being secretly traded in the State despite a ban on the possession and sale of such substances by the Chief Controller of Explosives in 2004.

In April last, 1,500 gelignite sticks (a banned explosive containing nitroglycerine), 1,000 fuse caps and 100 m of fuse wire were seized from a taxi car at Amaravila checkpost. The police suspect that the explosives were part of some old stock shown as destroyed in records but sold on the sly to unauthorised buyers.

The covert trade is conducted by an illegal network involved in the smuggling of explosives and detonators from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu into Kerala. The illegitimately procured explosives are used largely for unauthorised granite mining and illegal fishing operations operations. Some of the explosives also end up in the hands of criminal elements.

Large-scale mining of granite has triggered a huge demand for explosives in Kerala.

In the last financial year, the State Mining and Geology department had issued 9,001 short-term permits for mining granite. As many as 333 persons have long-term permits for granite quarrying in the State. According to department estimates, there are at least 4,000 illegal granite quarries in the State.

Many of those having permits for quarrying find it easy to buy explosives from the black market given the delay and difficulty in getting clearance from various Government departments for procuring an explosives license.