Thousands of migrant fishers working on large private boats and trawlers across the country are facing “immense hardships” in the absence of proper food and decent living conditions. They have demanded that they be allowed to return to their native villages during the lockdown.

In a letter to Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, the National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (NPSSFW) pointed out that the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) recent clarification that the government will not facilitate the movement of those migrant workers — who ‘normally’ reside in places where they work — to their native places, was unjust. “Since the lockdown was announced on March 24, workers in the sector have been facing immense hardships such as lack of adequate living conditions, denial of food and water and non-payment of wages. Herded in some of the boats, without adequate food and water, denied of medical facilities, many of them fell sick and a few workers even died,” the letter, dated May 7, stated.

NPSSFW has asked the MHA to issue a clarification that all migrant fish workers would be facilitated by the authorities to return to their homes.

“The MHA’s last clarification on the type of migrants whose movement will not be facilitated by the government has given the administration an escape route to shrug off its responsibility towards fishers. There has to be a clear instruction from the Centre on allowing fishers to travel back,” Pradip Chatterjee, Convener, NPSSFW, told BusinessLine.

Thousands of fishers are stranded in fishing vessels and fish landing sites in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa, and need to return to their villages, he said.

Deplorable condition

“While our organisation mostly represents small fishers, we have taken up the cause of the migrant fish workers as their condition is miserable and they don’t have adequate representative voices. They work at a stretch for months on boats and trawlers and are often treated as bonded labour. During the lockdown, things have come to such a pass that many are being given food just once a day and very little water,” Chatterjee said.

The MHA should allow migrant fishers to return to their native places as early as possible as the ban announced on fishing by the Centre in both the East and West coasts, coupled with the lockdown, would result in prolonged period of wage-less days for them, the letter added.

NPSSFW further proposed that the MHA should coordinate with the Department of Fisheries to ask State departments to liaise with various fishers’ and boat owners associations and unions to collate the information needed to move workers.

“With 62 fishing harbours, 181 landing centres and a total of 2,69,047 fishing boats around the coasts of the country, it is nearly impossible for all workers’ needs to be addressed without a coordinated plan,” the letter stated.

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