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Gujarat govt's Sagarkhedu project "fails" to alleviate plight of vulnerable communities of the coastal areas

By Anupama Vijayakumar*
In a recent mapping of issues in coastal areas, the Centre for Social Justice has found that in four districts in South Gujarat and four districts in Saurashtra the communities living in coastal areas in Gujarat remain largely neglected, making them highly vulnerable. The main issues that these communities are faced with include, developmental issues, pollution, lack of basic amenities and governmental neglect on a larger level. Even though schemes are in place under the Sagar Khedu Yojana, the benefits that they derive from them are almost nil. The vulnerable communities living in coastal areas include, fishermen, saltpan workers, farmers and tribals.
Communities living in Islands such as Aliabet in Bharuch and Shialbet in Amreli are completely cut off from the mainstream. Basic facilities such as a good primary school and hospital are absent in Aliabet. The inhabitants of this island also face the threat of eviction from the Forest Department, as they are not considered forest dwellers by the Forest Department. There is a looming threat of displacement and livelihood loss in Bhadbhut in Bharuch due to the proposed construction of the Barrage.
 The problem of development induced displacement is particularly huge in Bhavnagar, where a number of developmental projects seem to be coming up. The fishermen displaced by the Modest Shipbuilding Company have been rehabilitated in houses without any basic amenities located far away from their places of work. As one of the fishermen said, “We have a house, but we have lost our business and the fishermen are wandering about looking for jobs”.
The proposed construction of the Bhavnagar Engineering Company Thermal power plant in Padava village, would affect the farmers in Hathab, Khadasaliya, Bhadbhadiya, Aalapar and Padava. The farmers of in these villages refuse to let the cooling pipe pass through their fertile agricultural land, due to fear of destruction of their crop due to salinity ingress. There is also the infamous MithiVirdi nuclear power plant which proposes to acquire land from 14 villages. The farmers in the area refuse to give up their land. In Manar, adjacent to the shipbreaking ground in Alang, the government has proposed the construction of a plant to destroy shipbreaking waste.
The fishermen residing around Surat, Valsad and Gogha in Bhavnagar face the problem of industrial pollution. Oil and natural gas companies such as Reliance, ONGC and Essar are situated around Surat. Due to release of toxic effluents into the sea the fish die. According to the President of the Fishing Boat Association in the area, the amount of fish stock has reduced up to 50 per cent due to destruction of fishes caused by effluents released from the Nirma Detergent Industry and Excel pesticide industry located around the area. Valsad which is close to Vapi, a chemical industry hub faces the same problem.
There are schemes in place for the welfare of fishermen, such as the National Co-operative Development Corporation (NCDC) Scheme for fishermen, Diesel Subsidy Scheme and the Group Accident Insurance Scheme. According to the fishermen, none of them are aware of these schemes, nor do they receive the benefits. In fact in many cases when the fishermen die at sea, the families do not receive compensation. It is also interesting to note that the government has not provided for basic electricity, water and sanitation facilities in fishing villages. 
A major problem across the fishing community in Gujarat is the lack of fishing jetties due to which they have to travel to distant places sometimes even to Maharashtra to unload their catch. The duty for construction and maintenance of fishing jetties falls jointly upon the Department of Fisheries and the Gujarat Maritime Board. The existing fishing jetties that the GMB boasts of are in poor condition. In Porbandar and Junagadh, the construction and maintenance are such that there are too many boats, and not enough space in the jetty. 
In fact, it could be seen that the boats were so crowded that it would be impossible to get a boat out in the sea, if without the other boats clearing the way. In places such as Jaffrabad in Amreli, the fishermen’s houses are presently located in such a way that the sea threatens to swallow them any moment now.
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*Activist with the Centre for Social Justice

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