No dropping anchor
The impending Lok Sabha and state assembly polls have brought a brief respite to Orissa's 2 lakh-odd traditional fisherfolk who eke a living off Chilika lake. For, electoral compulsions have forced political parties to shelve the controversial Chilika Fishing Regulatory Bill, 2002, which seeks to grant 30 per cent fishing rights to non-fisherfolk. It is another matter that the row over the proposed legislation is bound to resurface after the elections.
The tabling of the bill during the recent winter session of the Orissa legislative assembly sparked a fresh wave of fisherfolk's protests against the sharing of the waterbody's resources. From December 17-21, as many as 20,000 members of the community gave vent to their anger by laying siege to the House while legislators were engaged in a debate on the bill inside it. Afterwards, the fisherfolk narrated their woes to legislators across the political spectrum.
The latter then reportedly convinced ruling coalition leaders of the imprudence of pushing through such a law in an election year. It is noteworthy that fisherfolk could have a bearing on the poll results in four of the area's seven assembly constituencies. On December 22, the assembly deferred the passage of the bill and unanimously decided to seek public opinion on it. The House has since been dissolved to pave the way for fresh elections in the state.
Even as the storm appears to have blown over for now, the fisherfolk are not lowering their guard. "We will continue to resist any attempt to legalise unlawful occupation of our only means of livelihood,' says Balaram Das, president of Chilika Matysyajibi Mahasangh (CMM), the umbrella organisation of primary fisherfolk's cooperative societies. "How can we soften our stand after having been manipulated so often? We have seen politicians wilting under pressure from the prawn mafia,' he adds. The fact is that traditional fisherfolk have been carrying on a protracted struggle, spanning more than two decades, to assert their exclusive right over this resource-rich waterbody (see: