KARWAR: Teenagers playing football on the narrow roads of Baitkol fishing village in Karwar looks a welcome sight, but villagers swear that the game is not the only influence Goa - whose border is barely 20 km away - has on their lives.
Competing against the modern and often alleged illegal fishing practices of Goa, Malpe and Mangaluru, the fishing communities in Karwar and their traditional fishing methods are dying a slow death.
Despite the alarming number of farmer deaths in the state, fisherfolk in Kumta, Honnavar and Karwar would any day pick farming over fishing. “When farmers demand something, politicians at least give them a hearing. We don’t even have a voice,” says Dilip Chendekar, President, Karwar-Ankola Trawl boat association.
Chendekar says that fishermen from Goa and Malpe eat into their diesel quota every month leaving the Uttar Kannada fishermen high and dry. He has decided to vote against the sitting MLA Satish Sail and the JD(S) candidate Anand Asnotikar. "We voted them to power twice but the men have failed us, I am putting my hope in a woman this time," he says, referring to BJP candidate Roopali Naik.
Thanks to rapid fish mining, fishermen off Karwar now have to travel at least 10-12 nautical miles into the sea to find a good catch. "Our trawl boats and Persian fishing boats are no match for Goa's bull trawlers and light fishing," says Prashant Karikantra, a city municipal council member.
He highlights how both these practices have been banned by the Union government but continue brazenly with political support. The practices of Malpe and Goa fishermen are mining the sea leaving very little or nothing at all for the fishermen of Uttar Kannada, they claim. Extension of Karwar port has been the only tangible development in the last five years and these fishermen feel neglected by the ruling class in comparison to their counterparts in Malpe and Mangaluru.
"Price of fish has remained constant for years now but cost of fishing has gone up multi-fold. I would pay Rs10 per litre for diesel 10 years ago and sell prawns at Rs70-100 per kg but today I pay Rs 67 per litre of diesel but sell prawns at the same Rs 70-100 per kg," says Vinayak Laxman Harikantra, member of a youth committee in the village. He is candid about how money flows to the village during election -- Rs 500 is the standard rate for a vote and Rs 200, he claims, is given to every individual every time a politician sets foot to campaign. "But who they vote for is their choice," he chuckles. Youngsters in the village are worried about the spurious liquor that flows from Goa. Vinayak claims that at least four lives are lost every year to unchecked spurious liquor in Karwar alone.
*No fish, no homes*
Uttara Kannada's fishermen travel for a minimum of five days up until Ratnagiri in Maharashtra to find fish. For the women back home, it is a long wait. Fishing in nearby Belekeri has been shut for two months now due to a shortage of fish. "Women from Belekeri come here to buy fish but now there are no fish here too. We do not know how long we can go on," says Krishni Manavalikar whose husband and two sons are at sea.
Demolition of hundreds of huts belonging to fishermen in 2014 following a Supreme Court order still haunts the community. The anger against the administration and incumbent MLA Sail is evident. "Why should I vote for the man who razed my house?” asked Jarabai Laxman Banavali who like many women in the region sells fish at the local market.
She and her colleagues at the market are sure to vote for anyone who ensures a roof over their heads. While some have their picks for the upcoming May 12 assembly elections, other like 60-year-old Nemi Kira Harikantra doesn't want to vote for anyone.
“All we get are empty promises and mere lip service. Why should I vote for anyone,” she asked. Her husband, who was once a fisherman, is now blind after a botched up treatment at the Karwar civil hospital. Nemi shifted to Baitkol after she was evacuated from Binaga decades ago to make way for Project Sea Bird.
With no industries, no jobs and poor infrastructure, Karwar- a place that has massive potential to be a business and tourism hub, is forced to send its youth to Goa, Hubli or Dakshina Kannada is search of jobs. "We have lost our intelligent youth to Goa, Hubli, Bengaluru and Mumbai. Governments after governments have failed to attract investments or set up industries to ensure jobs for our youngsters. The coastal part of Karnataka has high potential to become an industrial hub but none have worked towards it," says Anand Asnotikar, the JD(S) candidate for Karwar.
* 26.45% of Karwar's population still does open defecation
* 15% of the population has access to tap water
* Constituency still lacks basic amenities such as drinking water, toilets and unemployment
* While Karwar is a prominent tourist destination, a large chunk of the population is dependent on fishing and agriculture.