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Registered with WB govt, Dalit fishermen 'unlawfully' barred from fishing in Ichhamati

Counterview Desk

In a letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal, human rights leader Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) has regretted that , the Border Security Force (BSF) has imposed "ad hoc and abrupt restriction" on Dalit fishermen to fish in Ichhamati river in North 24 Paraganas district, even as their Bangladeshi counterparts continue to fish in their part of the river on the other side of the international border. 
Stating that it is a "grave violation of the fundamental right to livelihood", the Dalit fishermen are registered as fishermen with the Department of Fisheries, Government of West Bengal, and have fished in the Indian part of Ichhamati for their entire lives, till about 4 months ago, Roy demands, "The unlawful embargo on fishing in the stretch of the Ichhamati river passing must be lifted immediately and BSF should protect the international border of India without harassing Indian citizen."

Text

I am writing to you about a case of urgent and grave violation of the fundamental right to livelihood of Dalit fishermen in the village of Barnaberia, under Jhaudanga Gram Panchayat, Gaighata Block, North 24 Paraganas district, West Bengal – as perpetrated by BSF personnel of the 5th Battalion posted at Barnaberia Border Outpost on the river Ichhamati. The Indo-Bangladesh border in this region passes through the Ichhamati River – and part of the river is in India while part of it is in Bangladesh.
Said fishermen belong to the Rajbanshi community (Scheduled Caste) and reside on the banks of Ichhamati. They depend largely on their income from fishing, for survival, and also work as agricultural labour seasonally. They are all terribly poor.
They are registered as fishermen with the Department of Fisheries, Government of West Bengal, and have fished in the Indian part of the Ichhamati River for their entire lives; until about 4 months ago, when BSF imposed an ad hoc and abrupt restriction on their fishing. In fact, their Bangladeshi counterparts still continue to fish in the Bangladeshi part of the Ichhamati on the other side of the International border. According to the 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution, the matter of governing pisciculture in rural areas comes under the jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat, as listed in the Eleventh Schedule, and BSF has no jurisdiction whatsoever in this matter. However, on 18th January, 2024, 28 affected fishermen went alongwith the Gram Panchayat member to appeal to the BSF to lift this unlawful restriction on fishing in the part of Ichhamati River in Indian Territory – but their requests were denied by the BSF Company Commander at Barnaberia BOP who had no jurisdiction to do so. Thereafter, they collectively complained about this persistent and illegal violation to the District Magistrate, North 24 Paragans, on 22nd January, 2024. No initiative has been taken yet to reinstate the fishermen to their rightful livelihood.
Despite repeated complaints, as also intervention by gram panchayat members, BSF has refused to revoke their illegal dictat
The fishermen of Barnaberia village are entirely dependent on fishing for the sustenance of their families, including also their medical needs and children’s education. They are suffering terribly and wrongfully due to this unlawful embargo placed by the BSF – which also violates their fundamental right to move freely within the Indian Territory (Article 19 (1) (d), Constitution of India) and their fundamental right to livelihood (Article 19 (1) (g), Constitution of India). Despite repeated complaints, as well as intervention by Gram Panchayat members, the BSF has, with absolute impunity, and no regard for constitutional principles or jurisdiction, refused to revoke their illegal dictat. The MNREGA scheme has also being non-operational in Barnaberia for the past two years; therefore, said fishermen have not been able to secure any alternate opportunity for employment either. In this situation, around 30 families face abject starvation, and they will be forced to migrate as migrant labourers under vulnerable circumstances if they are to survive.
In this grave situation, we beg you to intervene and reinstate the fundamental rights of the victimized fishermen, and appropriate steps to establish the constitutional jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat according to Act, 1973, and implement the rule of law. We earnestly request that,
1.     The unlawful embargo on fishing in the stretch of the Ichhamati River passing through Barnaberia must be lifted immediately and BSF should protect the international border of India without harassing Indian citizen. 
2.     MNREGA scheme must be re-started in Barnaberia to provide employment for any and all villagers who suffer from uncertainty of employment.

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