At a time when the central government’s Sagarmala Programme reports to have identified over 500 projects to be implemented at an investment of around Rs 6.01 lakh crore for comprehensive development of the country’s 7,500-km coastline, fishermen in the State, however, worry that a large number of them will be displaced and the livelihood of many others dependent on fishing will be affected.
The ambitious project launched by the central government in 2015, Sagarmala aims at bringing port-led development by initiating projects designed for coastal areas. With a total of 121 projects involving an investment of over Rs 30,000 crore having been completed, and 200 projects with an investment of over Rs 3 lakh crore under various stages of implementation, Coastal Economic Zones (CEZs), Industrial and Maritime Clusters (IMCs) and Coastal Tourism are focused under the programme.
In this, Tamil Nadu will get three CEZs, four IMCs and various coastal tourism projects under the Swadesh Darshan scheme.
“There are 15 lakh fishermen in the State. Apart from traditional fishermen, more than 35 lakh people are dependent on the fishing business. Sagarmala Programme aims to wipe out the entire 50 lakh-odd population from the fishing trade and to hand over fishing operations to the hands of private players,” Dr Kumaravel of the Vangakadal Meen Thozhilalar Sangam (VMTS), told DT Next.
Though at the outset, the projects announced under Sagarmala seem to benefit the coastal community, fishermen are of the view that the programme has been designed to privatise sea and to uproot fishermen from their hamlets. “The primary aim of the Sagarmala Programme is to reduce logistics cost for Export and Import and domestic trade with minimal infrastructure investment. To achieve their objective, the Centre is going to construct infrastructural requirements in the coastal areas by ousting the traditional fishermen,” said Bharathi of the South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association.
Bharathi also said that though the central government through Sagarmala intends to bring about port-led development, it is an indirect way of privatising marine resources.
“Kattupalli port is a classic example where the port has been handed over to the Adani group. Making private players grow is the model intended under Sagarmala Programme,” he said.
The Tamil Nadu government, in 2017, had issued a Government Order (GO) to make Cuddalore and Nagapattinam petroleum zones but on Friday cancelled its plans to create the Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR). This comes when fishermen claim that the earlier GO was part of Sagarmala implementation.
Further, political leaders and environmental activists on Sunday raised voices, demanding the State to withdraw the already announced petrochemical and hydrocarbon projects in the Delta region. K Saravanan, a fishermen activist from Ururkuppam near Besant Nagar in Chennai and also a member of the Ururkuppam fishermen cooperative union, said, “The Sagarmala Programme cannot be seen as a separate project and every project carried out in coastal zone, irrespective of whether the State or the Centre is implementing is part of Sagarmala.”
Further, Saravanan said that the recent announcement by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on the Cauvery Delta being made an agriculture protected zone is against fishermen as under Sagarmala project, 80 percentage of hydrocarbon extraction is carried out in the sea while only 20 percentage of the extraction is carried out on land. Like the Tamil Nadu CM, Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has accorded permission to carry out offshore extraction without understanding the consequences of the impact of the projects on the lives of fishermen, he added.
With activists recently seeking for the cancellation the deal signed to set up Haldia Petrochemical complex in Cuddalore and to stop the expansion of the CPCL petroleum refinery in Nagapattinam, Saravanan said that the proposed refinery plant in Cuddalore will help refine crude oil extracted via offshore extraction in between Cuddalore and Nagapattinam.
Similar is the case with the refinery in Thoothukudi, Saravanan said. Also, the government is planning to conduct seismic tests in Cuddalore for the refinery plant, which, however, will have a long-term impact on marine organisms, he added.
While the State government is bragging that the refinery plants will bring in development to Cuddalore, a backward district, fishermen rue that the industry will have direct impact on their livelihood.
Further, Kumaravel, who hails from Nagapattinam, said that close to 15 power plants were announced as part of Sagarmala Programme in and around the district
This mere announcement had triggered huge tensions among the fishermen community, he said. If the entire coastal area is turned as a coastal economic zone, the government has to face a huge challenge from the fishing community, Kumaravel said.
When Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar was asked about the opposition for petroleum refinery projects, he replied that the State government will not implement any project that is against the interests of the fishermen.