Fish workers hit hard by conservation campaign

New boats under construction to phase out aging vessels at Fishing Harbour in Visakhapatnam. —   | Photo Credit: Photo: K.R. Deepak

Santosh Patnaik

VISAKHAPATNAM: Not finding any other way to meet his family expenses met, Ch. Pollaiah, 35, a fisherman, today borrows money from private lenders paying heavy interest.

Not only Pollaiah, there are many who throng the Fishing Harbour in search of boat repair works for livelihood. The owners indulge in boat repairs – sort of annual maintenance work and few others form into small groups of four or five to get artisans from Kakinada to construct new boats. All of them meet their expenses by banking on private finance.

The repair and construction work provides work to only a few, who have been rendered jobless due to annual conservation drive.

“The situation is horrible. At least last year, we could overcome the problem by meeting our basic needs from the diesel subsidy amount of Rs.10 crores released in May on the instructions of the then Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

Though this time, the amount due is Rs.18 crores, neither Chief Minister K. Rosaiah nor anyone is taking any interest to release it,” regrets P.Ch. Appa Rao, president of the AP Mechanised Boat Operators' Welfare Association.

He says the government released a cheque for Rs.14 lakhs in March -- the payment of which was stopped following a directive from the authorities to the treasuries not to entertain any payment.

An amount of Rs.10 crores was released last year at a time when the fishermen needed it most during the conservation period in 2009. Now the conservation period is in implementation from April 15 to May 31.

Nearly 5,000 people depend on livelihood on 600 mechanised boats, which are operated from here.

As getting institutional loan without collateral security is difficult, they prefer private finance to meet their requirements.

For hull, gear, wood, iron and painting works, each boat incurs an expenditure of Rs.1 lakh to Rs.3 lakhs depending on its age and condition. Some boat owners also use the conservation period to construct new boats under joint ownership so as to phase out their aging vessels.

No succour

“During the conservation period, we face a lot of difficulty. But our plea for adequate ration on the lines of support extended by Puducherry Government had fallen on deaf ears here,” points out Ch. Satyanarayana Murthy, president, Dolphin Boat Operators' Welfare Association.

Fishermen have already represented to the authorities for supply of 75 kg rice and Rs. 300 to Rs.500 to meet incidental expenses per head during the layoff period.

They say ration should also be given to rickshaw-pullers, ice suppliers and other workers, who indirectly depend on fishing activity.