Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Panidars and fisherfolk of Bhagalpur

"Chief Minister Laloo Prasad has managed to accomplish one task for which at least 40,000 fishermen of Bhagalpur will remember him forever.  Though zamindari was abolished in Bihar, at least on paper, in 1952, the panidari over the water of Ganga had been left untouched.  Under this system, peculiar to Bihar, the panidars fattened and flourished, while the poor fishermen suffered.  But with the passage of an act in the Bihar
legislature in August last, the tax collecting rights over Ganga now vest with the government of Bihar." from an EPW article by Indu Bharti quoted here in 1991 (via Pradhamanath Sastry).
A 2010 report on later developments Keeping rivers alive:
"It is really tragic that Bihar, a land of three large fertile floodplains, has to import more than 60% of its fish from pond culture farms in Andhra Pradesh. This unfortunate state of affairs reminds us that strong steps are urgently needed. Fishing will have to be regulated and its intensity controlled, especially in dolphin hotspots. Having said this, we re-emphasize the need to completely curb destructive practices by fishers and mafia alike. Regulated and non-destructive fishing sustained over a long-term could itself lead to restoration of collapsed fish stocks and needs to be a long-term goal for the management of the Ganges basin fisheries. The restoration should lead to improved health, numbers and availability of native commercial carps, and preponderance of larger fish sizes and improved juvenile recruitment. Large-scale restoration would involve measures for protecting hydrological services, flooding regimes, preventing degradation of bank habitats and pollution control.

There have been many episodes of mass exodus of fisher families from the area to work as construction labourers in big cities, both because ‘nothing is left to fish’, and the perennial threat of criminal gangs. There is a pressing need to examine alternative livelihood options. Commercial gains for fishers via alternative livelihoods need not be antithetical to dolphin conservation, or ecologically sensitive riverfront management. While reducing pressure on the already depleted resource base, these options could also improve the local economy through involvement of fishers’ knowledge and enterprise. A good example that has been successful elsewhere is the creation of community based aquaculture or fishing cooperatives. Cooperatives set up by local fisher groups via microcredit initiatives could empower fishers to manage their respective stretches, and at the same time, help the sanctuary authorities in monitoring and regulating illegal, destructive fishing."
More recent reports which I have not read are in the proceedings of a symposium Rivers for Life.

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