For nearly 600 fishermen from Maharashtra, stranded at sea off Gujarat coast after they were reportedly not allowed to deboard at Nargol, about 400 kilometres from Ahmedabad, home may still be days away.
The men, who have been at the sea for months, said when 23 boats carrying fishermen from Maharashtra and Gujarat reached at Nargol around 1.30 am Sunday an announcement by the mamledar or tehsildar said only fishermen from the state could alight on its shores. The Gujarat authorities claimed they could not allow fishermen from any other state to alight as villagers would not allow them to pass through in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the fishermen said.
While around 600 fishermen from different parts of Gujarat deboarded, as many others from Maharashtra stayed onboard. Stranded, the men said, they had little choice but continue their onward journey with little or no food and drinking water.
Prafulla Manek (38), a resident of Khatalwad in Valsad, near Nagrol, told The Indian Express, that around 1,200 fishermen had left from Veraval in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat on hearing the news of coronavirus pandemic. On April 3, the men reached Umergaon, near Maharashtra-Gujarat border, but could not deboard as villagers attacked them.
“I had left home seven months and 20 days ago to go to Veraval for fishing. On April 2, on knowing about the nationwide lockdown, 12 of us left Veraval on one of the boats to return to our villages. On April 3, we all reached Umergaon but were not allowed to step out. Local residents near the docks attacked us with stones and sent us back into the waters. My son, Sahadev Manek, and I stayed put till the Gujarat government made arrangements for us.”
After being screened by a doctor at Nargol, Prafulla and Sahadev put on a bus to Khatalwad where they will be home quarantined for 14 days.
Another fisherman, Santhosh Chandu (35), who was on a different boat, said, “Attacked by local residents, we went back into the waters and stayed put at the same place for more than 48 hours. There were 74 people on board. As our water supply and ration were over some of us were forced to drink water from the sea.” Santhosh wanted to reach his village in Timbhi, Maharashtra, from Umergaon to his family of four. He earns Rs 10,000 a month.
Macchi Mukesh (34), a fishermen’s contractor, said there were nearly 600 people from Maharashtra on separate boats. “They were forced to go back in the waters… These men don’t have much water and food, I am really worried about how they will survive.”
The tehsildar, who was in charge of the operations at Nargol, said, “We were only allowed to take in Gujarat fishermen. We have to drop them to their native places. The remaining were sent back to the sea.” Seven buses, with a capacity of 70 passengers each, were arranged to transport the fishermen from Nargol. A 25-member medical team also checked and screened the fishermen for COVID-19 like symptoms at the spot.
Shailesh Koli, a fisherman from Palghar district, who was forced to retreat to the waters, said, “We are also human beings and the treatment that we have received here is even worse than being afflicted by coronavirus.”
When contacted, Palghar District Collector Kailash Shinde said, “We are in touch with the Valsad administration and are working on ways to bring the fishermen from the state back on land safely.”