KOLLAM: The state government led by LDF, which boasts of a strong support base in the coastal belt in the state, has come in for sharp criticism from the Latin Catholic Church that has a significant influence among the fisher community over its fishing policy just days ahead of the assembly elections.
Kollam Bishop Paul Antony Mullassery’s pastoral letter, read out in the Latin Catholic churches in the diocese on Sunday, said there was an attempt to destroy the state’s fishing sector and sell it to monopolies.
The letter, titled ‘Fisheries: Care and vigilance needed’, called for defeating the policies adopted by the Central and state governments against the fisher families. The bishop said though the state government’s deep-sea trawler agreement with EMCC International Pvt Ltd was withdrawn due to the strong opposition, he was shocked to learn that clandestine efforts and legislation to overthrow the existing fisheries sector by allowing corporates and private monopolies to have dominance have already taken place.
The bishop demanded that any policies taken to destroy the traditional fisheries sector in the name of tourism and development should be opposed by the government. The letter also criticised the amendment to the Fish Marketing Act.It said the move to sell the fisheries sector to monopolies will destroy fishers’ livelihood. “During the Covid lockdown, the state issued an ordinance titled ‘Kerala Fish Auction Marketing and Quality Management’ without consultation. The Centre’s move to issue mining permits to explore marine resources in the name of Blue Economy should be stopped,” he said.
‘Bid to evict coastal residents en masse’
“A part of these policies is being implemented with an aim to evict residents in the coastal areas en masse,” said the bishop. Other issues raised in the letter include the hike in the licence fee for fishing vessels from Rs 250-Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000. But it was brought down to Rs 26,500 following stiff opposition. An additional tax of 5 per cent was imposed on the fish sold.
Government officials were appointed to determine the quality of the fish and a condition was brought in that their consent was required. The Rs 25,000 fine for fishing offences has been increased to Rs 2.5 lakh, exploiting the toil of the fishermen, he said. With the implementation of the provision that fishing vessels should be demolished after a certain number of years, the fisherfolk will lose their livelihood and fall into poverty. Their permission to operate at any of the fish landing centres has also been revoked, the letter said.
The exclusive housing scheme for the fishermen was snatched away by integrating it into the LIFE Mission project. The educational aid for students belonging to the fishing community has been slashed. The bishop also demanded immediate action against the government’s move to permit sand mining in coastal areas from Kayamkulam to Neendakara.
Pastoral letter politically motivated, says Minister
Kollam: Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma on Sunday lashed out at the pastoral letter read out in Latin Catholic churches in Kollam. The minister alleged that the Church diocese has issued the letter with political objectives. “Many of the statements made in the letter are baseless and factually incorrect. The misinformation spread by the Congressmen has come as an official document,” said the minister. This may be due to a lack of understanding or because of having a political interest in the subject. The minister also asked why the diocese should say all these on behalf of the UDF. Mercykutty Amma said the Church should clarify for whom the baseless pastoral letter was written and hoped that it would withdraw the letter. “In the history of Kollam, no bishop has ever made a blind political intervention. Many believers have been calling me. The fisheries Act is being interpreted without any basis.” Everyone has the right to criticise the government’s mistakes, she added.