The small-scale traditional fishing community of Jambudwip, an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal, will urge Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to reconstruct the fish landing centre which was destroyed by the erstwhile Left Front government in the name of boosting up tourism industry.
Around 20,000 poor fishermen who were evicted from Jambudwip, about 8 km to the South-west of Fraserganj have decided to write to the Chief Minister urging her to restore the traditional right of the fishers to indulge in seasonal fish drying activities on the island. It was one of the biggest fish landing centre in Asia.
The eviction was carried out by the Left Front government in 2003 with a promise that the island would be developed as a major tourist attraction. But no steps were taken by the then government and the eviction only affected the livelihood of around 20,000 fisher folk working on the island.
These people were engaged in transport and trade of dry fish. They used to catch fish and dry them on the island.
Debasis Shyamal, Secretary Dakshin Banga Matsyajibi Forum said that the forest department people used to torture the fishing community and this had prompted many fishermen to migrate to other places for livelihood.
Poor people involved in fish farming were greatly affected after the incident. Temporary huts which were there on the island were dislodged by the previous government. It had become a national issue and the matter is still under the consideration of the Supreme Court.
It had once been alleged that these fisher folk, who used to sort and dry fish caught from neighbouring water from September to March every year, were destroying the environment. In August 2003, the local fishermen’s association of Jambudwip, along with National Fish-workers’ Forum, appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking their traditional rights back.
In July 2009, the Expert Committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest (MoEF) headed by Dr MS Swaminathan in its report “Final Frontier” said that the fisher-folk were not harming the environment in Jambudwip and derided their forcible eviction from Jambudwip as an example of “conservation without people”.
In 2004, the MoEF had filed an affidavit in the SC saying that it had no problems if the state government agrees to give land on Jambudwip to these fishermen. The state government agreed on giving 100 hectares of land in 2004 to these fishermen to continue their activity and also submitted that they are ready to provide another 100 hectares for “compensatory afforestation.” The case is still pending in the Supreme Court.
Various organisations including Dakshin Banga Matsyajibi Forum, National Fish Workers’ Forum, Jambudwip Dry Fish Owners’ Association will appeal the state government to take measures so that evicted fisher folk can continue with their seasonal fish drying activities on Jambudwip. Shyamal said that for the seasonal fish drying activities, use of only 200 hectares out of the island’s area of more than 2000 hectares would suffice. The fisher-folk will work for proper afforestation in the rest of the island’s area on their interest.