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With boats,brethren still in Pak,Guj fishermen may forego vote

Mansukh Jiva,a fisherman from Mangrol,has plans set for April 30 — the day Gujarat goes to polls. He,along with five other colleagues,will fish in the high seas.

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot |
April 22, 2009 11:52:03 pm

Mansukh Jiva,a fisherman from Mangrol,has plans set for April 30 — the day Gujarat goes to polls. He,along with five other colleagues,will fish in the high seas. They will set sail from Porbandar on April 28 and will not return before May 6.

“My brother and boat,both are in Pakistani custody for over two years now on charges of illegally crossing over the International Maritime Boundary Line. There’s no reason for us to come back on April 30. All that the political parties have done is dole out empty promises. We don’t have time to waste now,” he said. Post 26/11 attack,for which a boat from Porbandar was hijacked by terrorists to reach Mumbai,a new set of security rules have come into force,which has added to the problems of the fishermen.

The fishermen community,comprising of Kharwas,Kolis and Muslims,have their settlements on the coastal belt from Dwarka to Navsari,covering seven LS seats. However,they are apprehensive of the government’s intention to help them. Most of the fishermen families have either someone close or a boat in Pakistani custody. Neglected for years,the 2007 Assembly election was a turning point,as the state government announced the Rs 11,000-crore Saagarkhedu package,closely followed by a relief fund of Rs 36 crore by the Centre. The fishermen in Gujarat never received so much attention from any party or government before.

But all promises have remained on paper. Even after two years,both the packages are yet to see light of the day,even as the number of boats in Pakistani custody has gone up from 340 to 500 in the corresponding period. The forthcoming polls have brought little hope for this community,which is why the politicians are whistling a different tune this time.

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“The UPA has failed to rescue over 500 Indian trawlers from Pakistani custody,” alleged Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Porbandar last week. He,however,kept mum about the state of his ambitious Saagarkhedu Yojana,which promised to provide subsidies,schools,hospitals and electricity on the coastal belt. Even though the polls are less than a fortnight away,no Congress leader has visited the region yet.

All that the fishermen want is release of 500 boats and equal number of fishermen from Pakistani hands. Instead,they have received empty promises of advanced communication equipment,technical schools,hospitals and roads in the coastal belt.

By announcing Rs 5 lakh compensation to boat owners and Rs 3 lakh to the kin of fishermen lodged in Pakistani jails,the UPA government,through its Rs 36 crore grant from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund in 2007,had hit right at the target. But not a single penny has been released so far and the fishermen have only become cynical.

“If the UPA has failed to get the boats back,the Narendra Modi government under Fishing Act 2003 has stopped subsidies on various things including nets,diesel,ropes,engines and new boats,” said Jivan Jungi,president of the Porbandar boat owners association.

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