The fishermen were lauded as the heroes of the Kerala floods, but a month later, they are helpless as the state has not released funds to fix their damaged boats.

Dont want awards give us funds to fix our boats Kerala fisherfolk tell govt
news Kerala floods Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 18:01

They were heralded as the heroes of the floods that devastated Kerala and some were even honoured by CM Pinarayi Vijayan in person. But just a month after the floods, the government has disappointed them by delaying the release of funds set aside for fixing damaged boats.

Hundreds of fishing canoes were used for the rescue operations and were damaged as a result of hitting trees and walls, and all of them are pending repair work. In Kollam, Malappuram and Ernakulam districts, over 138 out of the 185 damaged boats are yet to be repaired, leaving fisherfolk helpless as they cannot go to work, according to Charles, President of Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aykyam Vedi (Kerala Fish Workers Unity Forum).

"People have been sitting for close to a month without work. Some fishermen have literally no money to fix their damaged boats. Others have repaired their boats and submitted the bills to the official boat repair yard as per the government's instructions. But these people too have not been reimbursed," Charles added.

The government had set aside Rs 2.5 crore to help repair and rebuild boats, said Charles. However, bureaucratic processes have delayed the release of funds set aside for this purpose. And with each passing day, the losses incurred by the fisherfolk are rising.

"There is no point in releasing the funds later. The fishing season ends mid October and we won't get any catch after this," said T Peter, General Secretary of National Fish Workers forum and member of Kerala Independent Fish Workers Federation.

The damages vary from minor issues, such as peeling fibre coating to broken engines and boats.

"Some have only suffered damages of up to a few thousands of rupees. But others have to replace their engines and panels, and it can go up to Rs 50,000. It  is the government's responsibility to assess the damages and provide timely help," says Peter.

According to sources, over 4,500 fisherfolk in 1,669 boats set out to rescue flood victims across Kerala. The first set of fisherfolk, who kickstarted the rescue ops, were from Pudu Vypin in Kochi. They set out with 12 small canoes, out of this three canoes were damaged and still cannot used till date

"Repair works are to be done in official boat repair yards in the state, as per the government's instructions. But here we are, talking about small canoes, which can easily be fixed by local boat makers and carpenters. To transport the small boats in trucks to the yard would cost these fishermen around Rs 10,000 and the yard  too will attend to the big boats first, resulting in massive delays in the repair works. This forced a few fishers to get their boats repaired locally," said Charles.

These fishers are yet to be reimbursed despite official procedures for reimbursement being completed last month.

"Officials visited and clicked pictures of the boats as a record. However, the fishers still have not got their money," Charles added.

It's not just the boats that face neglect, fishing associations allege that the fishermen too have been given a raw deal by the government.

"CM Pinarayi Vijayan met and lauded two fishermen – NS Suresh and Alby – for their rescue work. Suresh suffered from rat fever and was admitted to the Ernakulam GH five days into the rescue operations. He was denied free treatment and medicines by the hospital, and we had to protest to ensure he got treated for free. Alby, on the other hand, is still waiting for the government to pay him so that he can repair his boat and go to the sea,” said Charles.

In some cases, desperate fisherfolk from Thiruvananthapuram and other districts have been partially repairing their boats and venturing into the water – a risk they are forced to take to make ends meet.

Angry at bureaucratic delays, fishing associations got in touch with the Fisheries Department to demand the release of the funds. A meeting has been convened on September 24 with the State Fisheries Minister to discuss the issue.

"We were lauded as the army of the state, and given medals and honours. We don't need any of those, we need money to fix our boats and go back to the sea. The government owes us this," Peter added.

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