‘Water, water everywhere…’ might sadly suit fishermen more than it suits anybody else today. Despite a plethora of welfare policies being announced by the governments, fishermen are still unable to derive maximum benefit from them.

There has been a significant increase in the number of arrests of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy of late and Katchatheevu has become the bone of contention between India and the island nation.

While Indian fishermen feel thankful to the union government for measures like setting up a separate ministry for fisheries, anti-maritime piracy bill and Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, they have also requested the centre to take action to wrest control of Katchatheevu citing agreement violations committed by Sri Lanka. Moving the international court to retrieve Katchatheevu, which India ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974, has been one of the suggestions put forth by the fishermen.

It may be noted that The Netherlands retrieved Palmas Island near the Philippines through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1928. As per UN norms, in a bilateral international agreement, a country gets the right to annul the pact if the other country refuses to abide by the agreed conditions. It is time the union government took a stand so that livelihood of fishermen is safeguarded.

The fishermen also highlight their list of long-pending demands which includes declaring cyclone in the deep sea as a national disaster. I met Prime Minister Narendra Modi after cyclone Ockhi in 2017 and submitted a memorandum seeking a National Integrated Fisheries Policy, setting up a branch of the National Disaster Management Centre and marine rescue co-ordination centre (MRCC) in Kanniyakumari district.

INFIDET had requested the President of India, in 2013, to amend the Indian Evidence Act 1974, Section 108, a burden of proving that a person is alive who has not been heard for seven years. This Act is against the livelihood of the fishermen, which is comparable to throwing oil on fire. Fishermen have urged the government to reduce the period from seven years to three months. For the families of eight fishermen from the Thoothoor region in Kanniyakumari who went missing during the 2009 Cyclone Phyan, situation has been very painful. Though 14 years have passed, the families are yet to be issued death certificates.

The state government has to ensure the availability of stones for the speedy construction of Thengapattanam fishing harbour in Kanniyakumari. Or else, there will be a series of deaths and injuries of fishermen and boat capsize in the harbour’s mouth. The government should also consider the genuine demands of fishermen, whose hard work earns it huge revenue from exports.

It may be shocking to note that not a single resident along the 7,517 km Indian coast has been told, either by the National Disaster Management Authority or the state agencies, as what to do in the eventuality of a tsunami. The union and state governments should create more awareness of escaping from disasters like tsunami among coastal residents.

Separate constituencies for fishermen, including fishermen in the SC/ST category, excluding the monsoon ban on trawling (June – July) which does not apply to long line and pelagic drift gill net that are used by the deep sea fishermen in the west coast, excluding traditional, artisanal fishermen from all marine laws aimed for commercial fishing, demarcated sea routes for ships crossing the Indian waters to avoid hit and escape, savings cum relief fund to fishermen above the age of 60, sea and air ambulances are a few demands on their long-pending list.

Some of the other demands include providing satellite phones free of cost, suitable compensation for the death of fishermen in the deep sea due to heart attack, patrolling in deep sea, fishing boats for expert fishermen at subsidised rates, free higher education to 100 poor students from fisher families every year, conducting fisheries grievance day, including fishermen in labour law of the country, and issuing international identity cards to fishermen. The union and state governments should consider these demands and protect the fishermen who risked their lives and rescued thousands of people during natural disasters like Cyclone Michaung in Chennai and the unprecedented rain in southern districts of the state in December 2023.

Long-pending demands

Separate constituencies for fishers, including them in SC/ST category, and demarcated sea routes for ships crossing the Indian waters to avoid hit and escape are a few demands on their long-pending list