Sagarmala: Fisherfolk call off stir, but resolve against project grows stronger

People of Karwar, especially fisherfolk, are up in arms against the government for initiating the Sagarmala Project, which they believe will throw them to the streets.

People of Karwar, especially fisherfolk, are up in arms against the government for initiating the Sagarmala Project, which they believe will throw them to the streets.   | Photo Credit: Girish Pattanashetti

High Court has stayed work on the project; it has been taken up despite stiff opposition, say protesters

On Saturday, after a fortnight of sleepless nights and tense days, Susheela Harikantra, Revati Harikantra, Anjali Arshekar, and several other fisherwomen were relieved as their leaders, lawyers, and representatives of various organisations decided to temporarily suspend their agitation opposing the Sagarmala Project. This was following a High Court stay on the project

For a fortnight, hundreds had been taking turns to spend the night under a pandal erected adjacent to the Deputy Commissioner’s office facing Rabindranath Tagore Beach in Karwar. Braving the winds, companions of their sea life, these women, along with their men and children, stopped fishing and closed fish market and spent nights under the pandal. They were worried that their future and livelihood would be shattered by the project.

‘Can’t afford to lose more’

While they have suspended their agitation for now, they have become stern in their resolve that they want the project shelved. They said they had lost around 13 beaches for various development projects, including Seabird Naval Base, and they could not afford to lose more, which would result in displacing more fishermen.

“The Karwar seashore has already reduced a lot and fishermen community has sacrificed in the interest of development. Now they want to take away whatever is remaining. Where should we go?” president of Chittakula Gram Panchayat and member of the fishermen community Raju Tandela told The Hindu.

A view of the Karwar seashore where the existing commercial port is proposed to be extended.

A view of the Karwar seashore where the existing commercial port is proposed to be extended.   | Photo Credit: Girish Pattanashetti

Construction of the northern breakwater proposed under the first phase of the second stage of development of Karwar Port (which is under the State government), now funded under the Sagarmala Project of the Union government, is not new, but one that has seen a delayed start.

Although planned 15 years ago, the proposal did not attract any bids from competent companies in either 2004 or 2008 when tenders were floated. It was revived in 2017 and brought under the Sagarmala Project. The ‘bhoomi puja’ was performed during the fag end of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s tenure.

Even as questions are being raised over the sudden protest and politics surrounding it, green activist and executive editor of Karavali Munjavu daily T.B. Harikant explained: “They (fishermen) thought it would not take off just like it had happened earlier. But as the work started and details of the master plan emerged, they understood that it is a do-or-die situation. They want to save what remains.”

Sagarmala Project – Development of Karwar Port (2nd Stage)
  • Proposed under first phase: Construction of north breakwater and extension of berth; total cost ₹276 crore
  • Proposed under master plan: Construction of five additional berths; other facilities, including warehouses, cold storage, and buildings; desalination plant; transit sheds; railway marshalling yard; and effluent treatment plant; total cost ₹1,178 crore
  • What officials say: DPR for master plan yet to be approved; it will help develop commercial port; breakwater will stop siltation; will ensure tranquillity in the harbour
  • What fishermen, activists say: The project will snatch away their livelihood; it will shrink the seashore and lead to sea erosion; no proper study done on environmental impact; no proper planning done for the project; no clarity on the project details

Vinayak Harikantra, a young fisherman, said that despite a lot of opposition during the public hearing held by the Deputy Commissioner in February 2018, the project got clearance. One of the main objections was that the project was prepared without taking into consideration its adverse environmental impact — an issue raised during the public hearing in 2018. Issues such as sea erosion owing to the construction of breakwater, what happens to Kone Nala, a storm-water drain that carries sewage to the sea, silt, and train connectivity to the port were also raised.

Erosion threat ruled out

Speaking to The Hindu, Port Officer of Karwar Port Taranth Rathod, however, ruled out the possibility of sea erosion and claimed that the beach would actually extend after the construction of breakwater, which is being taken up initially.

“The breakwater will actually bring down silt accumulation and reduce the maintenance cost of the port. Dredging will also ensure tranquillity,” he claimed.

But fishermen and Karwar residents see the breakwater as the first step towards reduction in the seashore and imminent destruction of their livelihood. Hundreds of fishermen of Baithkol and Aligadda use the fishing harbour adjacent to the commercial port.

President of the Karwar Boat Union Venkatesh Tandela accused that officials were hiding details of the larger master plan and were just focussing on the first phase work on breakwater to mislead the public.

Under the master plan for Karwar Port, development works worth ₹1,178 crore (initially ₹1,193 crore) have been proposed and as per the officials, the detailed project report for the next 30 years is yet to approved.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 10:12:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/sagarmala-fisherfolk-call-off-stir-but-resolve-against-project-grows-stronger/article30655061.ece

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