AP’s fishing community says DBT schemes insufficient, seeks infrastructure support

Despite both the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress Party promising infrastructure facilities to benefit over 1.5 lakh fishing families, slow progress on the ground leaves the community frustrated.
Fishing boats at sea shore in D Matshyalesham village
Fishing boats at sea shore in D Matshyalesham village
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During the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s term, N Chandrababu Naidu had announced new ports along the Andhra Pradesh coastline. The plans were stalled after the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) came to power, led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who instead announced the development of four new major ports and ten new harbours across the state. However, these promises of infrastructure development have been slow, leaving many fishing communities without any livelihood support. 

Andhra Pradesh's coastline stretches over 974 kilometres, and over 1.5 lakh fishermen families reside across 555 villages in the state. In Andhra Pradesh, most of the fisherfolks are from the Vada Balija, Palli, Agnikula Kshatriya, Palli Kapu, Kandra, and Kevita castes among others, classified as Backward Classes (A), but they have been demanding to recognise them as Most Backward Classes (MBC) considering their socio-economic conditions. There are specific financial assistance schemes for the community such as the Matyasakara Bharosa scheme which provides financial assistance of Rs 10,000 during the two-month annual ban period (time of no fishing for conservation of species during breeding) and Rs 9 subsidy on diesel for mechanised and motorised boats. In addition, under the Matyasakara Bhima scheme, Rs 10 lakh compensation is provided for accidental deaths during fishing. However, fisherfolks point out that these measures are not enough to address their long-term needs and emphasise that the absence of infrastructure remains a significant impediment.

Phalguna, president at the Srikakulam Fishermen Welfare Association , told TNM that the fishing community faces challenges such as isolation, lack of education, and limited employment opportunities.“In Kerala, fishermen have formed cooperative societies supported by the government. But our governments have only bothered about farmers due to socio-political dynamics as many rich landowners belong to their communities,” Phalguna said. 

The governments have acknowledged the need for infrastructure development and announced plans to provide fishing harbours and ports, but most of these have not materialised. At present, there are three ports owned by the state government at Krishnapatnam, Machilipatnam, and Kakinada while Visakhapatnam port is managed by the Union Government. 

Foundation stone at Mulapeta port
Foundation stone at Mulapeta port X/Chandra Singam

Port infrastructure in Andhra

In the early 1980s, the Bhavanapadu port was announced in Srikakulam but did not see any progress due to political and geographical reasons. After nearly four decades, in 2015, the then Chief Minister Naidu said that Bhavanapadu Port and nine new ports will be developed at Narsapur, Ramayapatnam, Machilipatnam, Kakinada SEZ, Meghavaram, Nakkapalli, Nizampatnam and Vodarevu, and Dugarajapatnam.

In 2019, Jagan formed the government and renamed Bhavanapadu port as Mulapeta (20 km away from Bhavanapadu) and announced three others at Ramayapatnam, Machilipatnam, and Kakinada(SEZ). The Kakinada port is being developed under a Public-private partnership by the Aurobindo group. 

All four ports will be equipped with four berths. At present, one berth at Ramayapatnam port is ready for inauguration, according to a senior AP Maritime board official. Jagan also announced ten harbours that were to be developed in two phases. A jetty is a narrow structure that extends into the sea from the beach and influences the tides by breaking high currents. A harbour provides shelter to the boats which may have multiple jetties or piers. 

Under phase one, the Uppada, Machilipatnam, and Nizampatnam harbours were agreed to be constructed with funding from the Union government. The Juvvaladinne harbour, fully constructed by the state, is ready for inauguration, while the Nizampatnam harbour is nearly 50% completed. 

Under phase two, Srikakulam will get two harbours soon – Budagatlapalem, and Manchineelapeta. In other districts, harbours are being developed at Pudimadaka, Kothapatnam, Odarevu, and Biyyaputippa.

However, this does not adequately address the concerns of the fisherfolk. “There are about 200 fishermen villages in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram alone but there is no harbour or port. Hence, many fishermen are forced to migrate to other states in search of work in large fishing vessels. If there are small jetties for every few kilometres it could greatly reduce migration and improve livelihoods. We need not necessarily wait for big harbours,” Phalguna said.  

Cheekati Gurumurthy with wife Laxmamma
Cheekati Gurumurthy with wife Laxmamma

Migration and lack of infrastructure support

According to reports, almost 35000 fishermen from Srikakulam and Vizianagaram migrate to Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In 2018, 22 fishermen from Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts who migrated to Veraval, Gujarat, were apprehended by Pakistan's Maritime Security Agency as their fishing boats crossed Indian waters. 20 of them were released in 2020 after serving 15 months in prison.  

50-year-old Cheekati Gurumurthy, who survived the ordeal, was forced to stop fishing due to the health issues he developed in prison. “I worked in Gujarat’s Verval for ten years as a helper in fishing boats. Most of our villages become empty during the season. Some of us became drivers, cooks, cleaners etc. We are paid only between Rs 12000 to 18000,” Gurumurthy said. He added that definite income is the reason why these other jobs seem lucrative to many fisherfolk. 

“Even if we have a boat here, fishing is a difficult job. If we work one day, we need rest. There is no regular income and if we migrate we may be able to pay off debts and even build a house,” Gurumurthy said, adding that he had constructed a pucca house by working in other states. 

Fishermen cite that the migration trend is driven not only by limited job opportunities but also by the inefficiency of their fishing equipment. About 54,000 fishermen are identified by the district fisheries department, and the majority rely on non-mechanised boats designed to conduct only daily fishing for short ranges. According to officials, there are only 1,500 motorised and 2,500 traditional boats in the districts. 

Activist B Sriramulu of D Matshyalesham village told TNM that when there is no jetty, boats are of no use. “The catch is not substantial as we cannot venture into deep waters. At least eight men are required to manually launch a boat into the water. This requires money,” he said.

According to Sriramulu, a traditional boat costs between Rs 30 to 50 thousand while a motor boat can cost up to Rs 4 lakh. “I cannot deny that people are not happy with the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes. We have good manpower and natural resources and they must be utilised. It cannot happen only with DBT,” Sriram added. 

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