HYDERABAD: Majority of marine fishermen, mostly boat owners, residing in coastal areas of Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts are yet to get representation in the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS), a community welfare body, formed in 1945.
The FCS election for seven community directors is set to be held on June 18, 2021, in which around 1,800-2,000 members will cast their votes.
Community activists said that despite contributing taxes and commission to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour, boat owners from these coastal districts had no representation in FCS and could not claim proper share in income and play a role in the development of their areas.
Majeed Motani, a senior boat captain and member since 1964, said the FCS was formed in 1945 by community elders, keeping in mind that this might help people in case of an accident during fishing in the sea, retirement, for education and health facilities for their families.
The FCS founders had set criteria to include boat owners as bona fide members, who could cast votes and participate in decision-making through their elected representatives. Specifically, there was a need for development of jetties (fish landing sites), roads, harbour maintenance, markets and other infrastructures using funds earned in the shape of prescribed commission through auction of seafood.
At that time, the number of boats was not so high. Initially, 500 boats were registered.
About the boat owners from outside Karachi, Motani said there was a small number from Keti Bunder and Kharo Chhan, Thatta district, who were members for a long time. Previously, the community members used to elect seven directors, while the provincial government would nominate five directors directly to run the affairs of the society smoothly.
But now the provincial government through amendment of the bill has become authorised to nominate eight directors directly. However, seven directors from the community’s side remain the same as per the election process.
Asif Bhatti, President, Native Indigenous Fishermen Association (Nifa) based in Bhit Island, Karachi said, “We follow the tradition set by our elders to elect seven members from the community to run affairs of FCS.” However, bureaucratic hurdles always disrupt the system, and community people feel uneasy about getting their share for development.
“We, the fishermen, are natural custodians of resources. We are eyewitnesses of increasing marine pollution and suggest authorities to address these issues,” Bhatti said.
The commission earned through auction of seafood ranges from Rs25 million to Rs30 million per month, depending on the situation. Despite huge earnings, the community does not get its due share for developing their jetties, and maintenance of harbour.
Elderly boat captains said that in the past, inexperienced community people had asked the government to run affairs of the FCS, and to nominate secretary finance or commissioner Karachi to manage the system judiciously. But later, the government intervened and manipulated the society’s manifesto. Presently, the government appoints eight directors and selects its chairman to run affairs, cutting the role of community-elected directors to use the income, Bhatti said.
Now, though the number of boats has increased manifold, membership remains low. The reason is that FCS has stopped giving new membership to new boats to avoid new claimants.
Saeed Baloch of FCS employees union (CBA) said the organisation was getting exploited by the government appointed people, who used the income on their own, without taking community directors onboard.
“Not only Thatta, Sujawal and Badin coastal areas, but Balochistan’s coast, despite being larger, spread over 700km, is facing a similar situation,” he added.
Pakistan’s coast is 1,050km long, including Sindh’s 350km and Balochistan’s 700km coastline. Balochistan contributes more to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour in terms of catch and trade.
Due to this kind of manipulation and deprivation, fishermen from Balochistan are thinking to part ways and form their own welfare body. Since they have their own fisheries ministry, they should have the right to run affairs on their own.
Community activists demand to revive membership and remove those from the voters list who have passed away. They also urge for verification of cards for members through NADRA so the welfare body can be saved.
Gulab Shah, representing fishermen from Keti Bunder, Thatta, said there were three categories of boats, including larger, midsize and low-size 20-feet boats. Of these, only two categories are eligible to get registered under the society act and the rest do not have a role. Otherwise, there are more than 45,000 boats of all sizes operating along the coastline.
Activists believe that the society can be run smoothly to serve as a channel through which credit for working and investment capital can reach individual fishermen, instead of moving to pockets of certain ministers and bureaucrats.
Some elderly fishermen still recall the old harbour between the present Natives Jetty Bridge and the (beach luxury) hotel, where they used to run old boats with sales.
Following the building of Natives Jetty Bridge and Keamari as a new a settlement, the old system was disrupted, as it was not possible for sailboats to pass under the bridge.
According to them, even the present fisheries and harbour market were too congested to accommodate the boats, traders, auction system and entrance of community people. They blamed FCS’s negligence towards harbour maintenance and cleanliness for the ban on seafood export by the European Union (EU). This ban was causing problems for people, who have been associated with fishing for generations, they said.
Shaukat Hussain, manager, FCS, said they were yet to revise the accurate list of members. “Presently we have an old membership record, in which 11,182 members may cast votes. But usually 1,800-2,000 voters take part in the process.”
Talking about the EU ban on the seafood export imposed in 2012, FCS manager said they have only two companies registered to export seafood. Officially, the EU inspection team was due earlier to inspect and allow the process, but due to delay the issue remained unsolved.
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