‘We fear we’ll die’: AP fishermen stranded in Gujarat forced to remain on boats

Close to 6,000 fishermen from Andhra are stranded on their boats in Gujarat’s Veraval with inadequate food supplies, besides poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
‘We fear we’ll die’: AP fishermen stranded in Gujarat forced to remain on boats
‘We fear we’ll die’: AP fishermen stranded in Gujarat forced to remain on boats
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Twenty-two-year-old K Raju, a native of D Matchyalesam in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, left home in May last year. A fisherman by profession, he migrated to Gujarat to work along India’s west coast.

On April 22, he was found dead in his cabin by other crew members on his boat. Those who were staying with him said that he had a panic attack and was under severe stress ever since March 22 when a lockdown was announced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Raju is just one of the close to 6,000 fishermen who hail from different villages in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts of Andhra Pradesh who have been stranded in Veraval along Gujarat’s coast since the lockdown began. With their boats docked, they have no means of returning home and their future is uncertain.

A video shared by the fishermen shows a large group of them gathered around Raju’s body.

“He died so young and he couldn’t even see his new-born baby girl. For the last 18 days, we have been calling the administration daily to inform them about the problems of fishermen stranded here. We have been calling Chief Ministers, Ministers, Commissioner, Collector, state administrations but all of this has been of no use,” says one of the men in the group.

Now confined to their boats, many of the fishermen say that they have inadequate food supplies, coupled with poor hygiene and sanitation facilities, and non-payment of wages. They also say that the government is yet to shift them to state-run shelters.

Stranded at the fishing harbour

In another video appeal, Gutu Kuppala Dhananjayarao, a fisherman also hailing from Srikakulam district, says, “We don’t have any basic facilities here. Union leaders and local leaders keep saying that they’re taking care and they’re providing basic facilities, but we don’t have water even for our toilets. We are forced to use dirty water instead.”

“We are given a can of drinking water and told to adjust for two to three days… we are five to six people in a boat and we are told to adjust with that. I’m asking the Gujarat government, how can we adjust with this one can of drinking water? But they’re not listening,” he adds, the frustration evident in his voice.

Dhananjayarao further goes on to say, “We are asking the governments ‘who will resolve our problems?’ Please, help us resolve our problems.”

The fishermen say two people have already died, including Raju, seemingly out of panic and stress post the lockdown.

On the intervening morning of April 9 and April 10, 45-year-old T Jagannathan, a native of Kalingapatnam town in Srikakulam, passed away. The fishermen say that he had not been eating properly for days as he was worried about what would happen.

There has also been an accident on board one of the boats in which a worker, D Korlaiya from Chintapalli village in Vizianagaram district, broke both his legs.

Speaking to TNM, Lakshmi Kovvada, President of the Traditional Fish Workers Union, says, “We just want to leave the fishing harbour and be shifted to a government shelter.”

“We are not able to bathe, there are no facilities. It is not fever or ill-health that is killing us, but a lack of access to potable water. We are ready to stay in quarantine, but continuing to live on the boats is downright dangerous,” she adds.

Andhra govt responds

The Andhra Pradesh government on its part has said that it has taken note of the issue and is helping out the stranded fishermen.

On Wednesday, it decided to extend a one-time financial assistance of Rs 2,000 each to about 6,000 fishermen from the state stranded at Veraval.

A release from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy spoke to his Gujarat counterpart Vijay Rupani and sought the latter’s intervention to provide food and other facilities to the stranded fishermen from the north coastal Andhra region.

The Gujarat government said that the fishermen were being taken good care of and even said that they could continue fishing activity in the state.

At a review meeting on COVID-19 management measures in Amaravati on Wednesday, the Chief Minister asked the officials to coordinate with their Gujarat counterparts and ensure that the one-time financial assistance was delivered to the fishermen.

However, Lakshmi says that the fishermen at Veraval are yet to receive any information about the financial assistance as of Thursday morning.

“We are grateful for the assistance that has been offered but our main demand is to get off these boats. We can’t live here. These boats are our workplace and not made for doubling up as a residence,” she says.

“It is becoming very difficult with each passing day. By the time the lockdown ends, we fear that all of us will be dead. The government can come and collect our bodies if it continues in this way,” she adds.

Dakshin Foundation, an NGO, has put together a fundraiser to provide relief to families of fishermen affected by the lockdown, with kits that provide medical aid and access to ration for a month. The link for the fundraiser can be found here.

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