KOLKATA, 10 MARCH: The state fisheries department slammed the forest department for “framing policies detrimental to the fisheries sector” and handed over a list of demands through a document ~ Right to Water Body ~ to various MPs so that they take up the issue in Parliament.
“The control of the reserve forest areas in the Sunderbans is the responsibility of the forest department. Forest officials harass fishermen and ignore requests made by the fisheries department relating to fishing issues in the area,” said Ms Madhumita Mukherjee, director of the state fisheries department.
The fisheries department has expertise in aquatic resource management but ironically the reserve forest and the protected marine areas are managed solely by the forest department. Traditional fishermen have been turned into mere labourers hired by rich trawler owners. The plight of fishermen, who venture into the “open waters”, is even greater. Forest department officials harass fishermen in the Sunderbans area and confiscate their boats and nets.
Hundred of boats, confiscated from fishermen, are rotting at forest department offices in the Sunderbans, she said. Confiscating such boats not only deprive poor fishermen of their livelihood but it also leads to waste of resources.
“The fisheries department should be given the responsibility to form policies on setting up aqua sanctuaries in large waterbodies and oxbow lakes that are lying unmanaged and unutilised. The forest department does not have any expertise in managing water-front activities,” said Ms Mukherjee. The department has also put forward a proposal to give fishermen in the area the right to fish on the basis of a licence issued by the fisheries department so that they do not have to acquire any document from the forest department. However, Mr AK Raha, principal chief conservator of forests, denied the charges against forest officials harassing fishermen and said that he has not come across any such document issued by the fisheries department. The state fisheries department has also proposed setting up a Sunderbans aquatic resource development body with representatives of all stakeholders under the aegis of the department to devise policies on “ecosystem health management”.
The department has demanded that the area be declared “Aqua Estate”. It has also proposed setting up of an institute on the land belonging to the department in the Sunderbans, with financial assistance from the Centre, to study the Sunderbans wetlands and promulgate sustainable aquatic livelihood practices.