All over the country, If you ask a fisherman if the beach belongs to him, you’d get a proud smile and quite a bit of talk about how the beach is indeed his land, just as it was his father’s and grandfather’s. However, the state has a disillusioned view. According to the government, India’s beaches are collective stretches of un-used land (Poromboke Nelam). Various government schemes and projects have been planned on these lands as a result of this misconception.
In 2011, central government announced an amended Coastal Regulation Zone notification where it instructed various coastal states to come up with a comprehensive coastal zone management plan that shows the way coastal land is being used, keeping within its scope traditional and customary use of land by fisher’s for living and livelihood purposes. However, there has been no concrete coastal zone management plan announced till date.
The fishing community, caught between the rising sea and developing urban area are caught in a fix as they have no security over the land they live on and work out of for a living. The fishermen needed to be informed about the laws that govern their land and the regulations that accommodate their needs.
On 25th of October 2014, Urur Kuppam’s Co-operative society organized a State Level Convention on Fisher’s Right to Housing and Commons to call upon their fellow fishermen and initiate them into a deeper understanding of their traditional rights and customary practices.
Held in Chennai, this convention had fishing community heads and fishers from about 9 coastal districts in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry in attendance. This convention mainly focused on disseminating information about the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2011 along with providing a space for fisherfolk to interact and learn about the way their traditional rights and customs can be preserved in the face of looming development.
Speaking at the Convention were K.Saravanan from Urur Kuppam, Gilbert Rodrigo from Chengalpet District among others. Another important topic discussed in the meet was the importance of community mapping exercises. Quoting K.Saravanan, the extent of the land use of a community cannot be understood by outsiders, no matter what high level committee they belong to. Only the members of the community will have an understanding about the way and extent up to which they use their land. He stressed upon the importance of each village preparing their own land use map by means of focus group discussions and in depth study of the ways different group of people use their land.
At the end of the convention, all the fishers who attended took up a resolution. They vowed to take separate and unified action to urge the government of Tamil Nadu to prepare an indepth CZMP as per regulations spelt out in the CRZ Notification taking into account their land use and long term housing needs. They also resolved to not permit any developmental activity on their land until a comprehensive CZMP has been prepared.