While the opponents and proponents of the project trade arguments, the people in the trenches are looking down the wrong end of the barrel. There are more than 140 fishing villages spread over the six coastal districts likely to be affected. More than one million fisherfolk live along this stretch, with hundreds of fish-landing stations.
A number of fisherfolk have lost their nets to the dredging vessels. Fisherfolk who accidentally ventured close to a dredging vessel or protested have been targeted by the navy. In areas where dredging hasn't yet begun, there are fears that fisherfolk will be removed from the coast and their lands acquired. "Regular movement of ships through the canal will hamper fishing. Already our boats, equipment and nets are damaged by ships coming into the Tuticorin harbour, says Jesu Balan, a fisherman from Anna Colony, Tuticorin. "There are a total of about 200,000 fisherfolk and ancillary workers in 33 villages in Tuticorin district. Almost all of them are opposed to the project,' says M Krishnamurthy of the Democratic Fishers and Fishworkers Union, an ngo based in Tuticorin.
There are several concerns. I earn about Rs 40 per 3-5 hour trip. The fish will be there so long as corals are there. If the corals go, so will the fish,' says Krishnammal K of Vivekanandpuram, a fishing village. She is convinced this project will destroy the corals. A few months ago, several villages in Tuticorin submitted a memorandum against the project.
The situation in Nagapattinam district is worse. N Nagaraja, a fisherman from Kameshwaram village, hasn't been out fishing for several days. The reason: his fishing net has been damaged. "Two months ago, I lost about 20 kg of net worth more than Rs 10,000,' he rues. Then, on January 13, 2006, he again lost nets worth twice the amount. Fisherfolk cast their nets and then wait for hours. If the nets are in the path of a dredging ship, they get shredded. And then there is the cost of each fishing trip, which is in thousands of rupees.
The traditional fishing panchayat of the village reported the matter to the district authorities and the fishing department. No compensation has been paid. "The vessel usually dredges far from where we spread our nets. But we can't move away even if we see it. The nets move around with ocean currents. It is on its way to the dumping site that the ship approaches our nets. We don't get the time to save them,' explains Nagaraja. And all this mostly happens at night, the usual time of fishing. Fisherfolk in Rameshwaram talk of resorting to extremist solutions.
More than 1,500 fisherfolk protested in August 2005 at Arakattuthurai in Nagapattinam. They wanted to block the dredging vessel with 77 boats. "Heavy police and navy presence prevented that,' says Rethinam. "Navy personnel noted the boat numbers. These were later targeted,' says Samikkanu.
sscl maintains no fisherfolk will be displaced. They say only when future land-based developments happen will any land be acquired. Activists and fisherfolk rubbish this claim, saying that hundreds of thousands of fisherfolk will lose their livelihoods. It also has to do with their fishing practices. They go out on fishing trips
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