Nandurbar’s Adivasi Fishers in Deep Water
They lost their land to the Sardar Sarovar Dam and now the Bhil adivasi fisherfolk of the predominantly tribal district Nandurbar in north Maharashtra are struggling with a decline in fish catch in the dam’s reservoir. Despite the introduction of cage aquaculture to enhance fishers’ livelihoods, their woes are far from over.
Satish Malviya 24 April 2023 1:51 PM GMT
Maniveli (Nandurbar), Maharashtra
It has been hard times for the tribal fisher folk who live along the large reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar dam in Maniveli village. There is frustration in Arvind Tadvi’s voice as he says his fish catch for an entire week gets him a meagre earning of Rs 300.
“That is the amount I end up spending on the fuel for my boat. Often, I spend more than a week circling the reservoir of the dam and return with next to nothing,” the 40-year-old who belongs to the community of Bhil adivasi in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, told Gaon Connection.
It is the same litany of complaints from Rayasingh Vasave, another Bhil adivasi fisherman from Nandurbar. “If it continues like this, it won’t be too long before we have to give up fishing altogether,” the landless villager told Gaon Connection.
Maniveli’s problem is akin to 19 other villages in the area which lie along the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s reservoir which extends up to 88,000 square kilometres. The dam, which was inaugurated in 2017, has been built on Narmada River near the town of Kevadiya in Gujarat. A large number of families in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, including tribal people in Nandurbar, were displaced and lost their land for this project.
And after losing their land, now the tribal people in Nandurbar are complaining of a decline in fish catch, which is affecting their livelihoods.
“Till three years back, the fish catch was easily 60 kilos in a week. Today it is not even six kilos,” Jay Singh, a fisher from Maniveli told Gaon Connection.
To address this problem, in 2017, a union with about 100 fishers, called Narmada Navnirman Satpura Sardar Sarovar Jalaashay Machhli Vyavsaaye Sehkaari Maryaadit Sangh Dhadgaon Akarni, was formed by 20 committees from as many villages in Nandurbar.
The objective of this union was to enable the fishers to practise cage aquaculture in the reservoir of Sardar Sarovar Dam as the depth of the reservoir was not suitable for surface fishing by traditional fishnets. According to fishermen, it is difficult to catch fishes in deep waters of the reservoir as compared to catching them naturally in similar water bodies of comparable depth.
Despite the introduction of cage aquaculture, tribal fishers claim not much benefits have come to them in the past five years. Cage aquaculture refers to freshwater fish production. In cage culture, fishes are confined in cages constructed of wire or fibre netting suspended from a floating frame.
“We started cage culture in 2017 and got the funds from the fisheries department of the state government to buy cages and fish seeds along with other equipment,” Siyaram Padvi, secretary of the local fisher’s union, told Gaon Connection. According to him, though they received a hundred per cent subsidy from the government to buy the cages, they still struggled with finding a market and arranging transportation to carry the fish there.
Padvi said that 240 fish cages were bought for 82 member-fishers from the 20 villages.
The same year, in 2017, the fishers also paid Rs 2,000 each to their committees as a membership fee. The money has since been refunded to them from the welfare grant received from the government. But fishermen complain their woes remain.
“We got the money back but I fail to understand what is the purpose of this union when there has been no improvement whatsoever in our livelihoods,” a disgruntled Jayasingh Vasave from Maniveli, told Gaon Connection.
From the Rs 1,800,000 given by the government, a fraction was used to refund the fishers in 2019-2020, Dinesh Vasave, secretary of Maniveli Fishing Cage Committee informed Gaon Connection.
“Apart from the refund, we also spent some money on buying fish seeds and fish feed in 2021. However, of the 75,000 fish seeds which were bought, almost half died due to the lack of oxygen in the reservoir. We presently have no money to buy fish seeds again. If we don’t get further funds, it will be difficult for us to continue functioning,” the committee secretary said. He added that a jeep and two motor boats that the government had also given, were also lying unserviceable.
Officials blame ‘inefficient’ committees
Kiran Padvi, assistant commissioner in the Department of Fisheries, based in Dhule said the mismanagement of the committees was a serious impediment to the fishers.
“These 20 committees that are a part of this fishers’ union are inutter disarray. Mismanagement of the committees has been counterproductive to the government’s efforts to benefit the fishers,” Padvi told Gaon Connection.
“The record keeping is poor, the reports on the condition of the machinery provided by the government is non-existent and we don't get any reports by the committees on their profits,” she added.
The secretary of Maniveli Fishing Cage Committee, also admitted that there was a problem with maintaining proper records of the money being spent.
“We don’t have proper records for the funds and cannot provide the exact details of the entire utilisation of funds,” he said.
However, some fishers are choosing to be less pessimistic.
“We have set up 20 cages in our village last year and we are expecting total profits worth Rs 6,000,000 this year,” Noorji Bhai, a resident of Chimalkhedi village told Gaon Connection.