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Fisherfolk show black flags to Modi at proposed Bharbhut barrage on Narmada river mouth, detained

By Our Representative
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday was laying foundation stone for the long-pending scheme for constructing Rs 4,000 crore Bhadbhut barrage on the Narmada river's mouth on the Bay of Khambhat, attracting media attention, what is little known is, about the same time, hundreds of fisherfolk waved black flags at him, riding on about 100 fishing boats.
Sailing into the river and shouting slogans, the fisherfolk were detained for five-and-a-half hours for demanding that there should not be any damming of the river at Bhadbhut, as they believed, it would destroy their prized catch, hisla, which breeds in brackish waters.
About 250 of them were detained and were kept under police custody from about 11.00 am to 4.30 pm. They were released after up to 2,000 fisherfolk, mostly women, reached the detention place to express their solidarity and seeking the release of those detained. By the time they were released, Modi had already left.
Well-known environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar comments, it was a "sad day for Narmada river" as "thousands of fisherfolk families will further suffer due to the Rs 4,000 crore Bhadbhut dam for which Modi laid the foundation stone", adding, it was "great to see boat protest by the fisherfolk families with black flags" showing "amazing courage". He regrets, "National media, unfortunately, seems happy to ignore this."
Significantly, the Gujarat government-sponsored environmental public hearing for the Bharbhut barrage project on river Narmada’s mouth in Bharuch district proved to be a non-starter in 2013, with as many as 1,500 farmers and fisherfolk turning up to attend the hearing on July 19, but walking out en mass.
The farmers and fisherfolk protested against the proposed project as “anti-people”, with Pravin Tandel, the fisherfolks’ local leader, saying the project would “adversely affect the fish catch, especially hisla, once the it is implemented.” He added, “Currently, Hisla fetches Rs 1,200 per kg, and is our main source of livelihood. To say that fishing is a side activity is a misnomer.”
A state-sponsored study, “Environmental Impact and Risk Assessment for the Proposed Barrage Across River Narmada near Bhadbhut, Dist. Bharuch”, by top consultants National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), has admitted that “in the event of construction of the barrage and the creation of the fresh water reservoir at the barrage, the concern of the fishermen regarding deprivation of the presently available fishing advantage is quite genuine that deserves very careful consideration for policy-level action.”
The study quotes fishermen as saying that once the barrage at Bharbhut is built, there will be a reduction of flow of riverine water into the downstream estuary which may cause variation in salinity of the estuary water, affecting the upstream migration of the hilsa fish. In their view, the barrage would be a barrier to the movement of fishermen and also to the migration of hilsa and other fishery species across the barrage.
The fishermen also feel, says the study, that after the barrage is constructed, the breeding ground of hilsa fish will disappear. In the context of the new barrage construction, they should be treated as the “Project Affected Persons”, they said, and need to be compensated suitably.
This is particularly necessary, it says, because “unlike agricultural farmers having permanent asset of land on which they have legal right, the fishermen do not have any exclusive legal right for fishing in any part of the estuary or the sea. This encourages outsiders to encroach in their fishing area and thereby deprive them of their livelihood”.

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