Boats still ashore, fishermen restive

CUDDALORE, MARCH 17 . A few days short of three months after the tsunami hit the Tamil Nadu coast, boats are still not where they ought to be: in the high seas.

With a Centre-State tussle — over whether grants or loans should be given — frustrating disbursal of funds to buy or repair boats, concerns of rehabilitation of fisherfolk are yet to be addressed.

Fishermen lounging on the beach and wandering aimlessly are a common sight along the northern coast, especially Chennai, Kancheepuram and Cuddalore.

With their boats and nets damaged or destroyed, they have lost the tools of their trade. Worse still, they have no means to replace them.

"Both our boats were washed away by the waves and we are still waiting for the relief from the Government. We do not know how long that is going to take. Meanwhile, we have no income and no money to spend," says K. Ezhumalai of Panayur Chinnakuppam near Marakkanam.

He claims that only 28 of the 100 fishermen in his village received the money (Rs.10,000) distributed by the Government to buy nets. That amounted to very little for each family, serving immediate needs, and could not be used for buying nets.

Frustration is building up slowly in the community and it may turn belligerent if its needs are not met soon, he says.

Discontent is also rife among mechanised trawler owners at Sonnakkuppam and Singarathoppu in Cuddalore. Huge trawlers, bottomed out during the tsunami, rest against support structures on the shore. "It will take at least Rs. 2.5 lakhs to repair," says C.K. Rajagopal of Singarathoppu, pointing to a gaping hole in a widebodied trawler. "And we do not have the money."

While fishermen in neighbouring Pondicherry have received grants to repair or buy boats, rehabilitation assistance has been tardy here, he complains. K. Kathavarayan of Akkarai Gori admits that fights occur among the fisherfolk, who are restless without job. "We are used to hard work and now we are falling ill because we cannot go out to the sea."

Dayanidhi of Thevanampattinam says the fisherfolk have reconciled themselves to joint ownership of boats. "But even as a team, we have not been able to mobilise money to repair the boats, some of which need at least Rs. 8 lakhs."

Collector's claim

The Collector, Gagandeep Singh Bedi, says the administration has disbursed at least Rs.15 crores in rehabilitation assistance for fishermen. Over 4,000 people have received cheques for Rs. 32, 000 each to acquire catamarans.

A sum of Rs. 5 lakhs has been given to 10 fishermen for mechanised boats. The members of the assessment committee have been asked to be liberal while evaluating damage to boats.

The Government will compensate up to 60 per cent of the total damage cost of a boat.

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