Bringing Peace To Pulicat
The day begins for these fishermen in kuppams (hamlets) along the banks of Pulicat Lake in Andhra Pradesh on a note of uncertainty. As the menfolk venture into the lake for the daily ritual of fishing, family members in these villages pray for their safe return. It does not matter to them if they return with a poor catch. Their only wish is that the men should return limb and soul intact.
“Yes, we pray that we should not be caught by the Tamil Nadu fishermen. We always want our people to return without being attacked by our Tamil Nadu counterparts. We wait with bated breath for our men’s safe arrival in the village,” said fishermen of Kasimedu kuppam, Nellore district.
They recall stories of horror. Tamil Nadu fishermen, who employ high-HP (horse power) boats, spring up from nowhere in the hundreds to attack the Telugu fishermen. They often destroy the boats, fishing nets and confiscate their catch. Sometimes they do not hesitate to abduct Telugu fishermen and confine them in their kuppams for weeks. Quite often, they rope in police who take them to Thiruvallur in Tamil Nadu to allegedly implicate them in cases. Attending the courts for these cases, sometimes non-bailable, makes life hell, they lament.
Skirmishes between the two sides are normal over fishing rights in Pulicat lake. During summer, when the lake starts drying up, tensions surface with both sides vying for domination over the limited area available for fishing. The year 2014 witnessed a war-like situation with each side attacking the other with an army of fishermen.
Tamil Nadu media had reported cases of attacks on Tamil fishermen. According to a report published in 2014, nearly 3000 fishermen from Andhra Pradesh landed in 400 boats to launch an attack on villages around Pazhaverkadu in Tiruvallur district. According to the Tamil media, several houses were burnt and fishing boats were set on fire.
But Andhra fishermen narrate the brutal attacks they suffered at the hands of Tamil Nadu fishermen. “They employ very powerful boats. While Andhra fishermen use 15 HP to 30 HP boats, Tamil Nadu fishermen deploy boats fitted with motors of 50 HP. They conduct lightning attacks and destroy our boats and nets and disappear. They even threatened to behead us,” said a fisherman.
One often comes across these types of stories of fishermen being captured and boats seized for straying into the waters of Sri Lanka and more often Pakistan. This happens because borders are not clearly demarcated on waters of seas and oceans like the ones on land. The arrest of Indian fishermen by neighbouring countries creates a lot of anxiety in families and villages they hail from. Their families would have to forego livelihood till the male members return which could take years.
If not on the same scale, high drama is common between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu which share the Pulicat Lake, the second-largest brackish water lagoon in India, after Chilka Lake.
Root Cause Of The Problem
While 480 sq km area of the 620 sq km lake is in Andhra territory, the remaining 140 sq km area falls in the state of Tamil Nadu. As many as 60,000 people spread across the 118 habitations in 12 mandals of Nellore district are dependent on Pulicat Lake.
The lack of clear demarcation of the border between Andhra and Tamil Nadu on Pulicat Lake is the root cause of all problems. Tamil Nadu’s fishermen show a palm tree as their border.
The problem is compounded by the narrowing of the sea mouths located at Rayadoruvu, Tupilipalem and Pulicat villages. This often leads to drying up of the lake on the Andhra side and shrinking of the water available for fishing.
“So, hoping for a decent catch, Andhra fishermen move towards Kurivithettu, Thettupadu and other deeper areas on the southern side of the lake. Tamil Nadu fishermen also want to catch the fish in the same area as this is closer to the waters under Tamil Nadu’s control. Friction ensues when Andhra fishermen attempt to stop them. Tamil fishermen attack and chase away the Andhra fishermen with their heavy and high-speed boats,” said Katrapati Kishore, a senior journalist and witness to many wrangles over Pulicat Lake fishing rights. He recalled an incident of arson in Bata Kuppam village by Tamil fishermen.
Kishore says that this is the first time the state government of Andhra Pradesh is proactively taking steps to settle the fishing rights dispute between the two states. “The dispute has been hanging fire since 1983. During YSR (Congress’ YS Rajashekhar Reddy) time an attempt had been made. After that not much thought was given. Now, a high-level meeting is planned to put an end to the rivalry between the two states,” Kishore, who represents Sakshi told The Lede.
According to Kishore, in 1985, Andhra fishermen came forward to get the area surveyed and border demarcated. He said, the AP Fishermen’s Association had even collected an amount Rs 1 lakh as part of their share and but the program could not be taken up due to inexplicable reasons.
High Level Meeting
The state government is said to have asked the ruling YSR Congress MLA V Varaprasadrao from Gudur to negotiate with Tamil Nadu officials to sort out the festering issue. Rao is incidentally a former civil servant from Tamil Nadu.
According to Konduru Anil Babu, Chairman of Andhra Pradesh Fishermen Cooperative Societies’ Federation, the meeting is being attended by AP Fisheries Minister Mopidevi Venkataramana, MLAs from coastal areas of Pulicat Lake as well as senior officials. “We will pitch for demarcation of the border in the lake or make it a free zone for all,” Anil Babu told The Lede.
“We cannot compete with Tamil fishermen who employ high-speed and high-HP boats. Even though our farmers operate in waters well within the AP border, Tamils attack Andhra fishermen stating that they encroached on their side. Our people cannot live under constant threat of attack. We need to put an end to this. We are hopeful that a solution would emerge from the February 18 meeting,” he said.
The meeting will take place in the Fisheries Commissioner’s office in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu fisheries minister and senior officials are expected to participate in the meeting.