How Es­sar de­prives fish­er­folk of their liveli­hood


LIFE HAS taken a mis­er­able turn for Hus­sain Yunus in the past five years. The 40-year-old has his fish­ing boat docked on the mud­flats of Gu­jarat’s Salaya port. Yet, ev­ery day he trav­els to other ports along the south­ern shore of the Gulf of Kachchh in search of work on other fish­ing boats. His three chil­dren, who used to study in pri­vate schools, now go to a madrasa that of­fers free ed­u­ca­tion. The big­gest change, they say, is in the diet: fish has be­come a rar­ity on their plat­ter. The story is sim­i­lar for al­most 8,000 fish­er­folk liv­ing in Salaya and 14 vil­lages around the port town. And all the fish­er­folk DownToEarth spoke to held Es­sar Bulk Ter­mi­nal Ltd re­spon­si­ble for the plight.

The com­pany, part of the In­dian steel-to-ship con­glom­er­ate Es­sar Group, is con­struct­ing a cap­tive jetty near Kalub­har tapu (is­land) to trans­port coal and other raw ma­te­ri­als to its 1,320 MW ther­mal power plant in Ka­jura vil­lage, 7 km from Salaya. But the jetty cuts through an area that has tra­di­tion­ally been the fish­ing ground of Salaya’s fisher com­mu­nity. “Our catch has re­duced by 80 per cent be­cause of the jetty which cor­dons off the en­tire fish­ing ground for its port,” says Yunus. While Yunus has man­aged to make ends meet, many oth­ers have run into debt. To pay off the debt, Yunus’ friend Su­mar Haji Hus­sain sailed to Jam Na­gar port last year. Since he did not have a per­mit to fish in the area, the coast guards seized his li­cence. With­out any other means of earn­ing, he had to sell off his boat.

Nazir Jas­rya, sec­re­tary of Salaya Mach­hi­mar Boat As­so­ci­a­tion ( smba), says the plight of the fish­er­folk is ev­i­dent from the port’s an­nual turnover from fish­ing

business, which has de­clined by two-thirds in the past five years. smba has been stag­ing protests against the jetty since Es­sar pro­posed the project in 2007. smba says the water around Kalub­har is not only a rich fish­ing ground, it is home to a rich marine bio­di­ver­sity. Es­sar is con­struct­ing the jetty in the eco-sen­si­tive re­gion by bend­ing all rules and vi­o­lat­ing a court or­der. Worse, the state govern­ment is work­ing hand in glove with it, smba al­leges (see ‘Cleared by er­ror’).

In­sen­si­tive to a frag­ile area?

The south­ern coast of the Gulf of Kachchh is known to har­bour sev­eral species of coral, sea-urchin, starfish, sea tur­tle and dugong among oth­ers. In the 1980s, 620 sq km of the area was de­clared the coun­try’s first Marine Na­tional Sanc­tu­ary and Park. The Coastal Reg­u­la­tion Zone no­ti­fi­ca­tion, 1991, also pro­hibits in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity in the area. In 1993, while al­low­ing Es­sar to set up a re­fin­ery, Vad­i­nar Oil Ter­mi­nal Ltd, 8 km from the eco-sen­si­tive re­gion, the Cen­tre had asked the Gu­jarat govern­ment not to con­sider any fresh project in the area. Yet, in 2009 the state govern­ment gave in­prin­ci­ple ap­proval to the jetty and di­verted 4.6 ha of man­groves at Par­o­diya vil­lage for it. The for­est land di­ver­sion com­mit­tee has de­nied the pres­ence of coral in the area.

In Septem­ber 2011, act­ing on smba’s pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion, the High Court of Gu­jarat or­dered a stay on the con­struc­tion work of the jetty. “But con­struc­tion went on un­abated. Work on the jetty had just started in 2011. Now it is near­ing com­ple­tion,” says An­war Pa­tel, pres­i­dent of reli­gious group Salaya Mus­lim Ja­mat.

Con­struc­tion work came to a halt on June 24 this year af­ter thou­sands of fish­er­folk from Salaya and nearby vil­lages tried to barge into the jetty, re­sult­ing in vi­o­lent skir­mishes. “Many peo­ple sus­tained se­ri­ous in­juries. But the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion did not regis­ter our com­plaints and asked us to com­pro­mise with the com­pany by ac­cept­ing com­pen­sa­tion,” al­leges Jas­rya.

Rec­om­men­da­tions ig­nored

“The clashes could have been avoided had Es­sar ad­hered to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Assess­ment ( eia) re­port pre­pared by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Oceanog­ra­phy ( nio) at its be­hest,” says Adam Bhaya, sec­re­tary of Salaya Ves­sels Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ( svoa). He had filed the pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion on be­half of smba. To min­imise en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the jetty, nio had pro­posed a dif­fer­ent route, which is 50 me­tres from the marine sanc­tu­ary and by­passes the fish­ing ground (see ‘Jetty of omis­sions’). It had also sug­gested Es­sar to fol­low tres­tle tech­nique (a bridge-like struc­ture) while set­ting up the jetty, says Bhaya, who has ob­tained the eia re­port and map of the re­gion from nio un­der the Right to In­for­ma­tion Act. “Es­sar built a L-shaped jetty to re­duce the length by half. Only 200 me­tres of the ex­ist­ing 5.5 km jetty is a tres­tle, while the re­main­ing is a bund road,” says Adam. Un­like a tres­tle, the bund road re­stricts the move­ment of fish­ing boats and tidal wa­ters, af­fect­ing the fish­er­folk’s liveli­hood and the re­gion’s ecol­ogy.

The nio map also con­tra­dicts re­ports of the Ex­pert Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee, which rec­om­mended en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance for the jetty. The com­mit­tee had said the jetty is “out­side” the sanc­tu­ary and park area. “The nio map sug­gests that a por­tion of the jetty passes through the Marine Na­tional Park. Es­sar has pre­pared a fake map in con­nivance with govern­ment of­fi­cials to help its case in the court,” al­leges Bhaya.

Ju­nas Haji Ga­jan, pres­i­dent of svoa, says the jetty has been con­structed in a way to grab the en­tire in­ner ar­eas of the port, and one can clearly see this on the Google map.

Even the pub­lic hear­ing for the project in 2008 was a hog­wash. Ad­ver­tise­ments for the hear­ing were pub­lished in two news­pa­pers that have hardly any cir­cu­la­tion in Salaya. This en­sured that peo­ple could not take part in the hear­ing, al­leges Ga­jan. The let­ter of ap­proval sub­mit­ted by Es­sar fol­low­ing the hear­ing was writ­ten by then pres­i­dent of Salaya mu­nic­i­pal­ity with­out con­sul­ta­tion with other mem­bers, he adds.

Of­fi­cials at Es­sar Bulk Ter­mi­nal re­fused to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions, say­ing the case is pend­ing in the Supreme Court. In March 2015, the com­pany ap­proached the apex court against the high court rul­ing to trans­fer the case to the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal ( ngt). It also ob­tained a stay or­der from the apex court. To pre­vent a dead­lock, smba in Septem­ber this year has filed a pe­ti­tion in ngt, say­ing the project can cause grave dam­age to the ecol­ogy. ngt has asked Es­sar and all those in­volved in the ap­proval of the project to re­spond by Oc­to­ber 20.

(Left) Most of Salaya's fish­er­folk have quit fish­ing since Es­sar Bulk Ter­mi­nal Ltd started con­struct­ing a jetty (be­low) in their fish­ing ground


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