On the river bed of Tapi, in Moti Devrupan village of Sagrbara taluka in Narmada district, temporary shelters for fishermen is an annual sight as over 100 fishermen from as far as West Bengal come to Gujarat to work as contractual labourers for various fishing cooperatives. However, after the imposition of Covid-19 lockdown, almost 153 of them had been stranded in the district without money, food or mode of transport to go back to their villages. Their indefinite wait to return home has finally come to an end. The fishermen are expected to be sent back to their villages by Tuesday.
The administration which had apprised both Gujarat and West Bengal governments of the stranded fishermen, had been waiting for a confirmation from the latter. “They have finally responded and now we are finalising to send them back. They will be sent back by tomorrow or the day after,” said MR Kothari, District Collector Narmada.
The fishermen arrive every year towards the end of January and return to their respective villages in April or May depending on the work. They however claim that this year, since their arrival, no work has come their way.
“We arrived in January and around February we start getting work after tenders are passed. But this time the associations claimed that they were awaiting tenders to be passed. We thought we will wait too. But then the lockdown was imposed. We could not catch any fish, nor could we sell them. We have not earned a penny this year and now we have run out of all the money we had,” said Sameer Biswas. 36, from Nadia district in West Bengal.
Sameer claims that he is able to earn more in Gujarat in the limited months than what he earns back home. “I usually earn between 8000 -10000 in a month,” said Sameer adding that now he just want to return home.
Every year the state government issues tenders for reservoir fishing under its Reservoir leasing policy. The cooperatives, however, claim that the tender amount was increased following which they were negotiating to reduce the amount which was hampered by the lockdown and the tendering was postponed indefinitely.
“The rate of fish have dropped too. Earlier what we could sell for Rs 200/kg is being sold at Rs 25/kg. Since we do not have money how can we employ them,” said Digambar Vasava, heading a fish cooperative in Sagbara.
These fishermen live under makeshift trampoline tents erected by them, with cardboard sheets covered with a piece of cloth placed side by side to each other to sleep on. Without masks they use their ‘gamchas’ to cover their faces, even as social distancing inside their tents is difficult to maintain.
Having exhausted their savings over food, the men had been awaiting a response from the administration to head back home. ” The villagers initially provided food but for how long will they feed us,” said Sanjit Biswas (44), another fishermen from Shantipur village of West Bengal.