Monday 16 December 2019

In support of Margao and Navelim farmers battling for their paddy fields

Goa’s famed Fish, Curry and Rice is purposely being destroyed

Bharat Mukti Morcha expresses deep shock over the State government decision to dump Garbage in Paddy fields under cultivation of rice and vegetables at Aquem, Margao. Around 40 Farmers families are cultivating land actively, and government under police protection has fenced paddy fields all set to dump the Garbage. The cultivators affected are mostly from Tribal community that is known for farming skills from several generations. These farmers along with members of Public have been creating awareness amongst public in order to object the State decision. One of the larger awareness programs of collecting pubic signatures is underway in Margao and Navelim in Salcete. Large numbers of people were seen signing the petition against Garbage dumping proposal located near Margao railway station. Members of the farming community were seen carrying copy of the High Court Order in Public Interest Litigation (WP 45 of 2019) and explaining to Public implications of such a shift in dumping from Sonsodo to Aquem, Margao.

Bharat Mukti Morcha expresses support and solidarity with the protesting famers and their families struggling to save their livelihood based farming. It is not known whether Goa Government or the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court has carried/ ordered on any studies to find out known impacts on farming in cases of Garbage dumping. It is also not known whether Goa Government or the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court has carried on the studies of Psychological traumas (Solastalgia) that affected families are likely to suffer due to forceful dumping of Garbage in their paddy fields. If these studies are carried on then it is not known if the results are shared with the affected families and in Public domain. If these studies are not carried on they garbage cannot be dumped in paddy fields.

Few months ago Goa Chief Minister Dr. Pramod Sawant was reported in press lamenting that Goa has to depend upon neighboring States for the supply of Food and had called upon people of Goa to take up Agriculture. Why then Goa Chief Minister is not intervening in this matter to stop destruction of agriculture and increase food security of Goa?  Or is it the case that Goa Government is determined to stop cultivation of paddy fields because they are being cultivated by Gawdas, tribal community? Will Goa Government and its various arms respond the same way if the cultivators of paddy fields were Bamons? Are State agencies determined to carry forward program of Cultural genocide of Goa’s tribal people? Few years ago the same paddy fields were under attack by Goa Government for organizing RSS convention for several days. Farmers that time in collaborations with others including Bharat Mukti Morcha fought back protected their paddy fields. Now time has come again for another fight and Bharat Mutki Morcha supports the affected farmers of Margao and Navelim.

Severe pressure is exercised by vested interests including State and Central government agencies to destroy agriculture in Goa. Mining, Real Estate, widening of highways, breaching of bunds like in Vanxim Island, etc has contributed towards  destruction of agriculture in a major way. Severe pressure is also exercised on Goa’s Tribal People (Gawdas) by attempting to destroy their occupations and sources of livelihoods. Destruction of agriculture at Aquem, Margao is latest example but not the only one. In Nauxim tribal people (Gawdas) are termed Shudras and sought to be put under pressure by destroying their livelihood systems based on fishing by implanting AHOY Marina in Zuari river by MPT in violation of SSFGuidelines. Goa’s unique riverine agriculture known as Puran Xhethi practiced by tribal people (Gawdas) in Sattari inside River Mhadei is destroyed though flooding for mini check dams to store fresh water. No one protested allowed this practice of agriculture to cease. People were scared away by telling them that order to flood river has come from Delhi and it cannot be challenged. Now Mhadei river itself is allowed to be diverted for another dam inside Karnataka and there is some hopeful signs of protests. We hope that these protests will also call for revival of Puran Xhethi in Sattari. Leadership of Tribal People (Gawdas) in Goa needs to be sensitive to the systematic ongoing cultural genocide and draw up plans to counter the same. Margao and Navelim Tribal People (Gawdas) must not allow themselves to be used  and abused by petty politicians but align themselves with capable organisations of tribal people like that of Adivasi Sanghatna based in Quepem. Adivasi Sanghatna too on its part must take pro-active approach and reach out to tribal communities in Margao and Navelim. Goa’s Tribal Affairs Minister Govind Gawde must act decisively as a representative of tribal communities and uphold rights of affected farmers in this case and draw and implement long term plan to protect livelihood of tribal people particularly Gawdas, Velips and Kunbis in the light of International Law governing Indigenous People of the World (UN Convention on Indigenous People).

Garbage problems of Goa are increasing and becoming uncontrollable with increase in urbanization and rise in industrialization leading to rise in plastic products. Process of Urbanization needs to be reversed. Existing cities in Goa needs to shrink and reduce. Goa needs to move towards de-urbanization. Rural areas need to be regenerated. Garbage facilities and processing must be arranged at city and village for its own garbage.  If cities cannot treat its own garbage then reduce size of the cities to make them garbage manageable. Stop expansion of cities by taking over village lands.  Under no circumstances agriculture lands must be utilized for Garbage dumping.

Few years ago Sangeeta Sonak in her writings has claimed that Gawdas and Bamons has jointly worked towards reclamation of coastal lands to make Goa what it is. This can be the subject of historical investigations either to prove it right or wrong but right now Bamons at various positions of powers should collaborate to defend paddy field of farmers at Aquem, near Margao Railway station at this is the case of not only cultural genocide of Gawdas but also classic example of environmental racism wherein State is manufacturing consent to destroy livelihood of people with the backing of law. Food is one of the primary needs of life on par with clothing, shelter and education. State and Judiciary must interpret Law and statues in order to uphold Life that is Fundamental right in Constitution of India under Article 21 and not otherwise. Do life of Gawdas, Kunbis, Velips matter in Goa? Or is it that Gawdas, Kunbis, Velips matter only to sell their dances to promote tourism as Goan culture? Where is the respect for Goa’s tribal people? Is dumping of Garbage in the land where they cultivate paddy is a sign of respect or sign of insult? The insult for sure. We protest. Paddy fields must be left alone for cultivation of paddy as currently being done twice a year.

Maggie Silveira,

Friday 13 December 2019

The struggle of fishers in Goa’s Zuari river continues in November 2019: Some features and insights

A Report by NPSSFWI National Council Member Sebastian Rodrigues

The logic of economic growth leading to degeneration of ecology and impoverishment of  fishing communities on the banks of Zuari river has raised the voice of protest and unleashed struggle of fishing communities. The epicenter of current struggle is the mouth of Zuari river specially involving northern as well as southern banks of the river that is 5.5 kms wide at the mouth that empties in Arabian Sea.

The growth logic has lured sizable amount of fishers to get into legally, ecologically and ethically objectionable methods of fishing in Zuari river. Two of these methods has triggered conflicts. They are trawling and purse seine fishing methods. Both these fishing methods are banned in rivers of Goa and within 5 kilometers from the shoreline but have enough promise of prosperity for those few fishers who engage in them even though peril for the ecology and other fishers in Zuari. Trawling has been objected in Goa by Small Scale fishing communities since 1970s and had met with an success to some extend with the enactment of legislation – Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1980 and its rules in 1981.

Its enforcement remained pathetic due to lack of political will as trawlers funded various politicians openly as well as clandestinely. Zuari river fisheries entered turbulent phase in 2014 when large number of trawlers entered river and began carrying on illegal fishing. Fishers on northern banks objected to their intrusion and petitioned Goa Fisheries Department but did not find positive response with consistency.

Few times attempts were made by Fisheries Minister Palyenkar in 2017 to stop trawling in Zuari but after a month would resume again after fresh political settings. Same miserable practice of enforcement continued in case of purse seine fishing too. However regular complaints were filed by fishers under the banner of Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State Unit and shared online on its website

In 2019 National Convenor of “National Platform for Small Scale Fish Worker (Inland) (NPSSFW(I)” Pradeep Chaterjee established contacts with fishers struggle in Goa with a two personal visits to meet fishing communities and know their problems. Goa Fishers were invited to join NPSSFW(I). In the meanwhile Food And Agriculture (FAO) office in Rome was contacted in April 2019 and information on SSF Guidelines enforcement status in India was sought. FAO informed about India being a signatory to SSF Guidelines and Government of India has included implementation of SSF Guidelines in India via Article 54 of the National Policy on Marine Fisheries 2017. FAO also shared information about existence of International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). On contacting ICSF its leadership Sebastian Mathew and John Kurien extended invitation to participate in two of their recent conference in Chennai and Kolkata. NPSSFW(I) invited Goa delegates to its National Convention in Delhi in July 2019. Five delegates including three directly engaged in fishing from Goa participated in the conference that provided insights and exposure to the participants.

In July 2019 Government of Goa amended fishing laws dealing with illegal fishing allowing confiscation of fishing boats as well as fishing license of the canoes and vessels booked for illegal fishing during the suspension period.

2019 also witnessed process of setting up union of fishers in Goa under the guidance of NPSSFW(I) and facilitation from Dialogue, Empathic Engagement and Peacebuilding (DEEP) Network (India). Accordingly the Union was formed and named “All Goa Small Scale Responsible Fisheries Union”. Committee has been formed and process of registration initiated.

In the meanwhile Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa Unit has continued to speak out on fishing issues and has filed several complaints with Government authorities on illegal fishing besides mobile phone sms and Whatsapp campaigns.

In August 2019 when trawling and purse seine boats resumed their illegal fishing operation in Zuari river, complaints were filed and messages sent to members of Public as well as the new Fisheries Minister Philip Neri Rodrigues. Minister phoned and called the fishers to meet him. A day prior to the meeting Minister directed raid on illegal fishing in Zuari and booked trawler belonging to the leader of the Trawler owners Simon Pereira. Meeting took place on August 26, 2019 and another follow up meeting on September 23, 2019. Fisheries Minister listened to the fishers and got opinion of  MLA Churchill Alemao who owns trawlers. After all the consultation Fisheries Minister joined the October 11, 2019 public meeting at Bambolim on illegal fishing along with other local MLAs such as Jennifer Monsorrate who is representing Taleigao and current Revenue Minister of Goa, Fransisco Silveira, MLA, St. Andre Constituency, and Antonio Fernandes, MLA of Santa Cruz Constituency. All the MLAs spoke against illegal fishing in Zuari River and vowed to increase surveillance by hiring private boats for this purpose.

After this meeting Zuari River and purse seine boats reduced to one boat. Zuari River at Odxel fishing coast and state authorities has not taken any steps to consistently maintain vigilance system in Zuari River in spite of the public promise.

One likely cause is that Control room at Fisheries department is infiltrated by lobbies engaged in illegal fishing. Fishers calling up and informing has been called back within five minutes by the owners of the fishing boats carrying on illegal fishing is Zuari River and threatened. Also often complaints lodged are not processed and patrol boats are not dispatched to Zuari River. The demand of fishers to station one patrol boat permanently in Zuari River due to high incidents of illegal fishing by trawlers and purse seine boats is also not taken seriously by Goa Government and neglected. Even staff of the fisheries department  if dispatched to the coastal villages of Odxel, Nauxim, Cacra, Bambolim and Siridao with camera would be able to record the identity of the boats engaging in illegal fishing activities.

There are some definite good signs towards tackling illegal fishing activities. Trawlers have stopped while purse seine boats are trying to re-start the same. One of the good signs is that Fisheries Minister has taken the issue seriously and even replied sms saying he has directed Fisheries department to carry on patrolling till very late in the night. Second good sign is that Minister has taken seriously issue of abuse of Coastal Police station at Harbour that has forwarded fictitious cases against fishers Cosme Pires and Sanjay Pereira to the Judicial Magistrate First Class in Vasco. Minister has taken this issue up after being petitioned by Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State to get these fictitious cases withdrawn.

When the fishers were awaiting arrival of Fisheries Minister Philip Neri Rodrigues to his office at Secretariat in Porvorim, earlier Fisheries Minister Jose Philip D’Souza came over and started shouting that Simon’s trawler has been booked and he has come to meet Fisheries Minister in order to release the detained trawler. Later director of Fisheries confirmed that the department of fisheries has detained trawler fishing illegally in Zuari River. Jose Philip D’Souza also shouted that hence forth it is going to be very difficult to carry on illegal fishing in Zuari as online campaign launched by Bharat Mukti Morcha has trigged police to break nexus with those indulging in illegal fishing in Zuari River.

Zuari River fishers are also facing prospects of abrupt end to their fishing activities due to proposed marina at Nauxim, the fishing village on the northern banks of Zuari River. Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State Unit jointly with NPSSFW(I) has filed detailed objections to holding of Public Hearing on November 02, 2019 and has called for scrapping of the  Marina project at Nauxim. Large number of individuals, Fishing Community Organization and Civil Society organizations together with Members of Panchayats, MLA, Academicians, Lawyers, Activists etc has formed an alliance named “Goenkars against Marina” and spearheading this movement. In the face of massive resistance installation of Marina has been suspended.