Fishworkers Protest Across India, Oppose Draft Coastal Zone Notification 2018

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Various organizations under the umbrella body of the National Fishworkers’ Forum, demonstrated and urged the government to revoke the draft notification that scales back environmental safeguards for the coastlines.

by Shilpa Shaji/ Source: Newsclick/ The Dawn News/ June 13, 2018

Fishworkers across the country held a day- long national protest on June 11, rejecting the draft Coastal Zone Notification 2018 (CRZ, 18). The fishworkers, under the banner of National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), gathered across the coastal States, opposing the draft notification released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on18 April.

With the slogan, “Restore our coastline, secure our livelihoods,” the protesters urged the government to revoke the draft notification that scales back environmental safeguards for the coastlines. The draft stands in violation of Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which states that the Central Government shall “… take all such measures that it deems to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution”. The current CRZ2011 notification mandates that setback zones be demarcated, livelihoods be protected, and unchecked development curtailed. However, the draft CRZ2018 overturns these by removing safeguards and facilitating development, and in return, paves the way for the Sagarmala programme [a massive infrastructure  project that involves the revamp of major ports and the areas around them]. The NFF also pointed out the vested interest of the Central government, which is on the verge of passing the bill. In addition, the MoEFCC has published the draft CRZ notification only in English and has displayed its cynicism towards the fishing communities at large, the protesters said.

The NFF has instead sought immediate steps towards the enactment of a comprehensive Coastal Regulation Zone Act, as promised by the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in January 2011. The Act must be prepared through open and appropriate consultation with the coastal fishing communities and concerned citizens and should be based on sound scientific, environmental, and social principles with the aim to protect both coastal natural resources and sustainable livelihood practices dependent on those resources, the NFF said.

Another pending demand of the NFF is the completion of the Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMPs) under the CRZ, 2011. These include the demarcation of lines, zones, plans, and the long-term housing needs of coastal fishing communities in a transparent and accountable way, with the incorporation of community participation and traditional wisdom.

Prior to the pan-India protest, NFF Chairperson Narendra Patil said, “We are the largest primary non-consumptive stakeholders and natural custodians of the coastal natural resources. The fishworkers of India will not remain silent on a document that has been prepared without our consultation.”

On Monday, Kerala Swathanthra Matsyathozhilali Federation (KSMTF), an ally of NFF in the State of Kerala, organized a march in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. “Opposing the CRZ 2018, we marched to the Accountant General’s office and in other districts, the fishworkers have sent letters to the Centre raising our demands,” said Peter Thomas, General Secretary of NFF.

“Before any new regulations are introduced, the State must implement the CRZ, 1991, and the CRZ, 2011, and ensure that all violations are dealt with. With no mention of past violations in the draft CRZ 2018, notification, the MoEFCC is essentially condoning all such violators,” Peter added.

In Goa, Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE), a forum that is part of the NFF, submitted a memorandum to the member secretary of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA), objecting to the draft CRZ notification 2018, and urged him to send the objection on behalf of the fishermen of Goa and GCZMA.

“GRE and NFF unanimously reject the draft as this notification is scaling back on safeguards for the coastlines, and therefore stands in violation of Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which states that the Central Government shall take all such measures that it deems to be necessary or expedient  for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution,” said Olencio Simoes, NFF vice-chairman and GRE general secretary.

The memorandum submitted to GCZMA reads: “It is not clear why, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change is attempting to relax the CRZ Notification of 2011 to benefit builders and industrialists, given the fact that the environmental crisis facing our planet and our country is mounting.”

Highlighting the concerns of the fishworkers across the State, Simoes said: “There are almost 80,000 of us and we all will be affected and  105 km of the coastline destroyed by allowing construction within 50 meters of the High Tide Line. There will be no CRZ left.”

“Because there will be no coast, it will eventually be a dead end for fishermen and tourism. Goa will lose its coastline if the No Development Zone (NDZ) is reduced to 50 m since 20% of the 105 km of  Goa’s coastline has already been affected by erosion. The Colvale area in North Goa and River Talpona in South Goa are already affected by erosion,” he added.

Unions including Vangakadal Meen Thozhilalar Sangam (VMTS), Ramnadu District Fishworkers Union (RDFU), Coastal Action Network (CAN) and Bharathiyar Meenavar Sangam, demonstrated across various parts of the State of Tamil Nadu including Ramanadu, Chennai, Nagapattinam, Thiruvavoor and Kadloor.

“Once the notification becomes an act, the fisher folk will not be able to dwell within 500 m of the shore with their boat nets,” said A. Palsamy, RFTU president, while addressing the protesters in Ramnadu.  Apart from this, the allies of the NFF protested in their respective states, including Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan in Gujarat’s Bharuch, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti in Mumbai- Maharashtra, Coastal Karnataka Fishermen Action Committee in Mangalore, Karaikal Fishworkers Union in Pondicherry, Democratic Traditional Fisher’s and Fish workers Forum in  Vishakhapattanam (Andhra Pradesh), Orissa Traditional Fish Workers Union in Konark (Odisha) and Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum in East Midnapur (West Bengal).

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