Odisha fishers help BJP net victory in state and general elections

Fisherfolk have played a major role in the political landscape of Odisha in the recently concluded assembly and Lok Sabha elections. A large number of marine fishers in Odisha have expressed their discontent by voting against the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), electing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates instead.

The fishers’s frustration stems from the state government’s perceived inaction in addressing their long-standing demands and mitigating their hardships.

A major issue for the state fishers have been fuel prices. Marine fishers have been demanding subsidised diesel for mechanised fishing boats, as the rising cost of diesel — now Rs 97 per litre — has added to their woes, said Srikant Parida, president of the Odisha Marine Fish Producers Association.

Read more: Verdict 2024: Did farmer grievances about paddy MSP lead to BJD’s defeat in Odisha?

“Fishers already have to cope with numerous hardships and obstacles, including unpredictable weather conditions. Many fishermen can no longer afford to go out to sea because of high fuel prices, while fish prices remain the same,” he said.

Most fishing boats work collectively in groups of five to seven, with a common practice being for all boats to go out to sea together, but only one fishing boat to return to shore with the haul, to save fuel.

“Most of the fishermen are now finding it difficult to cover expenses and are invariably in debt. The diesel price increase has put the state’s fishing industry into a major crisis,” Parida added.

As fuel prices have been escalating, the costs for logistics services like ice, equipment, and fishing tools have also been increasing. “As a result, fishermen have to pay much more than before for every fishing voyage,” Parida underlined.

The governments of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat provide subsidies to fishermen for diesel, he pointed out. “We have repeatedly demanded that the Odisha government provide diesel subsidies to fishermen, but the Odisha government ignored our demands, which is why many fishermen and their families voted against the BJD,” Parida said.

Long fishing bans also had fisherfolk concerned, said Prasan Behera, president of Odisha Traditional Fish Workers’ Union (OTFWU).

Read more: Verdict 2024: Migrant hub western Odisha voted for change, shows BJP overthrow of BJD strongholds

“From November 1, 2023 to May 31, 2024, approximately 700 marine fishermen were arrested by forest personnel on the alleged charge of fishing in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and 86 fishing vessels owned by fishermen were also seized by the forest department as the state government imposed a seven-month-long ‘Fishing Ban’ in the marine sanctuary,” he said. 

The fishery department recorded 1,714 mechanised boats, 10,359 motorised boats, and 3,868 non-motorised boats in the state.

“We advocated for the inclusion of fishers’ families in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other social security schemes at a meeting in Bhubaneswar six months ago. But the government turned a deaf ear to our demands, which is why we cast our votes against the BJD to teach the state government a lesson,” added Behera.

The fishermen had also demanded regular dredging of sea mouths, a halt to the discharge of chemical effluents from industrial units into the sea, and the establishment of a fisherfolk welfare fund. “Many fisherfolk are worried about their vessels getting damaged or even running aground due to siltation at Odisha’s biggest fishing harbour in the port town of Paradip,” Behera said.

Regular dredging is needed to keep the fishing harbour functional, but has not been carried out for a long time, aid Narayan Haldar, president of the Odisha Masyajibi Forum.

“Due to sand deposition at the bottom of the fishing harbour, boats collide with the bottom during low tide, causing damage to numerous boats and trawlers. The problem is even worse when the boats return from the sea with a heavy fish catch. For years, de-silting has not taken place at the harbour, resulting in the accumulation of sand and mud,” he said.

Read more: Verdict 2024: Odisha’s women may have helped tilt scales in state against BJD, say experts

Fisherfolk had urged the BJD government several times to dredge the river mouth, but the authorities did not take any steps to do so, Haldar said.

“The fishing harbour used to be 13 metres deep, but due to heavy siltation over the years, it is now only nine to ten metres at low tide. As a result, fishermen have been finding it extremely difficult to bring their fishing boats into the harbour since the propellers get stuck in the sand and mud,” he stated.

These longstanding issues prompted the fisherfolk to vote out BJD, Haldar said. “Fishers have voted in large numbers against BJD in Paradip assembly segment under the Jagatsinghpur parliamentary seat,” he said.

The segment now has high hopes their issues would be resolved by the new government. “We hope the new government will dredge the sand and mud that has piled up at the harbour basin for the smooth movement of fishing boats and trawlers,” Haldar said.

Source link

Most Popular

To Top