A few kilometres from Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, right on the sea shore, is the tiny village of Vadarevu. Usually idyllic, this village is now as tumultuous as the sea, thanks to the threat of eviction that the fisherfolk face.
On Monday, the local police tried and failed to evict nearly 300 pakas (huts) over 8 acres of land. As soon as the police came in, the local residents put up a tough resistance. Several fishermen and women were taken into custody, along with the village Sarpanch, and later released.
The reason for the eviction drive? Apparently, the district authorities, allegedly under pressure from the MLA of Chirala, Amanchi Krishna Mohan, want to ‘beautify’ the beach of Vadarevu to develop tourism in the area.
The allegation is that the TDP MLA wants to get in on the tourism boom in Andhra, according to Yeripalla Ramana, the Sarpanch of the village. Ramana says, “Since this area is on the boom, the MLA wants to develop it further. The fisher folk meanwhile want their jeevanadaram (livelihood) to not get disturbed.”
“Of course, they were told that they will be given houses in Tsunami colony and Indiramma colony instead. But it’s not just about houses right?” he asks.
Himself a TDP man, Ramana is still fiercely loyal to his people. “Since I was elected by the people, I will represent their wishes, not those of someone else.”
The Circle Inspector of Chirala however has a different story to tell. He claimed that the order from the district authorities was for the removal of one hut. V Suryanarayana says, “We were asked by the Deputy Tehsildar and the Panchayat Secretary, in writing, to provide security as they wanted to remove a hut which was encroaching the main road.”
He says that though the police made preventive arrests, the people who released later in the day.
However, when TNM contacted the Tehsildar of Chirala, he refused to give an answer as to exactly what happened.
Mylapalli Srinu (41) has been fishing since he was a child. “We have been living here for generations, and we depend on the sea for our livelihood. They want us to leave this place now. How are we supposed to survive without our livelihood?” he asks.
K Appalakonda (28), a widow fisherwomen has a 13-year-old daughter. Like many other women in the settlement, she makes a living by selling fish in the local market.
“I buy fish from others in the revu (seashore) and sell them to customers. This is how I make my bread and butter. How can we survive if they cut off our lifeline?” she asks.
Another fisherwomen, Subadra Koda (40), who is bringing up her kids by selling Uppu Chepalu (dry salted fish), says, "We have been living here for several year. Now they want to construct parks and hotels, and say it’s not possible to let us stay here.”
It’s not just the fisherfolk who depend on the seashore for a living. According to activists, the revu provides livelihood to around 5000 people - from drivers who export fish, to boat mechanics and those who repair nets.
Andhra’s ‘beautification’ fixation?
This is not the first time that fisher folk are falling prey to the ideas of development and beauty held by those in power. According to a report by Rahul Maganti in the People’s Archive of Rural India, fisher communities in the new capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati, are all facing the threat of eviction - and some have already been evicted and pushed away to the outskirts, for the Kondaveeti Vagu Flood Water Pumping Scheme. The scheme aims to keep the capital safe from floods, and has been roundly criticised by the residents who are being evicted.
“The actual reason for the Kondaveeti vagu scheme is that the CM doesn’t want labourers [and fishermen] to live at the entrance of his world class city for people in suits and boots with fancy cars. He wants to drive us out and this scheme is just an excuse for that,” Venkata Narayana, the president of the Polakampadu Fishermen Cooperative Society, told Rahul Maganti.
Activists warn government
Rights activists and left parties fighting in support of the fisher community have now warned the government about state-wide agitations if the project is not dropped. They’ve also demanded the construction of sheds in the area at government cost.
Rajashekar Sykam, state leader of the Fishermen Hakkula Porata Samithi says, "They have been living here for over 80 years, where will they go? What is the alternative?”
Accusing MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan, he alleges, “He is using his political power to snatch these lands from the fishing communities."
Rasani Krishna, Fishing Castes Sangam Prakasham District president says that since there is no scope for relocating the fisher folk, their livelihood will be affected. "First, they will evict huts. Then, they will remove fishing boats. Where will they go?"
“We will not keep quiet if they start destroying our people’s livelihood in the name of development,” he warns.