Friday, January 29, 2010

Port of Displacement

Geetisha Dasgupta

The Gangavaram port in Visakhapatnam was inaugurated on 12 July 2009 with much celebration. The new port, which became operational last year, has state-of-the-art highly mechanised cargo handling system to receive capsize vessels with a capacity of 2,00,000 DWT. Ms. Purandeswari, Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, in her address expressed satisfaction over the inauguration of the port and added that some issues with regard to rehabilitation of affected fishermen should be sorted out on a top priority. The Chief Minister YSR Reddy complimented the Gangavaram port management for having completed the work with superb efficiency and no compromise on any front. The Andhra Pradesh Government had selected a consortium led by DVS Raju (of Hyderabad-based VisualSoft Technologies) and comprising Dubai Ports International and New Wave Securities and Industrial Credits Ltd to develop and operate the project for 30 years on a build-own-operate-share-transfer (BOOST) basis.

Indeed, it was a no compromise job. The construction and trial run of the port which began exactly one year before the date of formal inauguration coincided with uprooting and displacement of 25,000 fishermen in Gangavaram and the adjoining Dibbapalem village. Fishermen were forced out of their traditional occupation as their access to the sea was directly cut off. The fisher people agitated but the government turned a deaf ear because this was a mega project which promised to make Visakhapatnam a shining star in navigation cartography and make the maximum profit possible through gateways of foreign investment and public private partnership. Among the crores that were in the prospect, displacing thousands did not matter. It was an easy bargain that one person died from police firing while agitating and as said earlier, was not any compromise at all on the part of the state and the port authority, both of which congratulated each other.

A recent roundtable discussion held as part of the National Workshop on Resource Politics, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, and Displacement in India organized by CRG in collaboration with CSSEIP, Andhra University, discussed the issue in detail. The participants were, G Papa Rao, an advocate for the fishermen displaced by the Gangavaram port project, Kadiri Kannaya, a fisherman from the village of Dibbapalem and Dr ABSV Ranga Rao from Andhra University. The roundtable dwelt on the premise that the master plan of the port and exclusion of the fishermen was drawn even much before the Special Economic Zone Act was in place. Land acquisition was completed for the port by virtue of a special act that the Andhra Pradesh Government passed to favour the construction.

One outcome was that the fishermen united and demanded jobs in the upcoming port. The administration called the agitators rowdy and immediately implicated them in police cases that ranged from civil to criminal. Thus keeping the fisher folks on one side, the port authority continued to build a firm wall around the port enclosing the sea. The fishing community has been largely neglected in India. Only disasters like cyclones etc bring their stories to the forefront. The fishing community includes not only the fishermen but also several secondary and tertiary occupational groups like women who sell fish in the Visakhapatnam market, people who make and repair the fishing boats and the nets and will be devastated if one ring of the collective chain if broken. Interestingly, the relief measures, however small attach only to the direct fisher people and not the others. The roundtable was a vent to the fisher people who think that the fishing community has been guarding the coasts from time immemorial and now the marine police force ward the same community away from the sea. This not only threatens them from the economic point of view but also push them to a point of suspecting the state to be conspiring against them.

A suspicion becomes a belief when the state throws ample scope to reaffirm the same. Khadri Kannaya brought into notice the related issue of the much promised fishing jetty that the AP Government promised to rehabilitate the fishermen occupationally to some extent. Though declared to appease the opposition at some point of time, the authorities plainly rejected the pleas from the fishing community to finally construct the jetty pointing towards the fisher people as criminals who did not deserve the fishing jetty. Their agitation against the construction of the port has earned them this wrath.

The most severe effect, as Dr Rao explained, is possibly that the fishermen suffer from psychological stress due to this untoward development and consequent displacement. This dislocation therefore causes problems of psychological health and decrease in average life span of members of the community.

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