HYDERABAD: The majority of marine fishermen, mostly boat owners, residing in the coastal areas of Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts have not yet been represented in the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS), a social protection created in 1945.
The FCS election for seven community directors is scheduled to take place on June 18, 2021, during which approximately 1,800 to 2,000 members will vote.
Community activists said that despite taxes and commissions paid to the fishing port of Karachi, boat owners in these coastal districts had no representation in FCS and could not claim an appropriate share of the income and play a role. role in the development of their areas.
Majeed Motani, senior boat captain and member since 1964, said the FCS was formed in 1945 by community elders, keeping in mind that it could help people in the event of an accident while fishing in sea, retirement, education and health facilities for Their families.
The founders of FCS had defined criteria to include boat owners as bona fide members, who could vote and participate in decision-making through their elected representatives. Specifically, there was a need to develop piers (fish landing sites), roads, maintenance of ports, markets and other infrastructure using the funds earned in the form of commissions prescribed during the sale to seafood auctions.
At that time, the number of boats was not that high. Initially, 500 boats were registered.
Regarding boat owners from outside Karachi, Motani said there were a small number of Keti Bunder and Kharo Chhan in Thatta district who had been members for a long time. Previously, community members elected seven directors, while the provincial government appointed five directors directly to smoothly manage the affairs of the company.
But now the provincial government, through an amendment to the bill, is allowed to directly appoint eight directors. However, seven administrators from the community side remain the same according to the electoral process.
Asif Bhatti, President of the Native Native Fishermen’s Association (Nifa) based on Bhit Island, Karachi, said: âWe are following the tradition established by our elders of electing seven community members to run the affairs. by FCS. However, bureaucratic obstacles still disrupt the system, and people in the community feel uncomfortable getting their share for development.
âWe, the fishermen, are the natural custodians of the resources. We are eyewitnesses to the increase in marine pollution and suggest the authorities address these issues, âBhatti said.
The commission earned through the seafood auction ranges from Rs25 million to Rs30 million per month, depending on the situation. Despite huge revenues, the community does not receive its share for the development of their jetties and the maintenance of the port.
Elderly boat captains have said that in the past inexperienced community members have asked the government to run the affairs of the FCS and appoint the finance secretary or commissioner Karachi to run the system wisely. But later the government stepped in and manipulated the company’s manifesto. Currently, the government appoints eight directors and chooses its chairman to run the business, reducing the role of directors elected by the community to use the revenues, Bhatti said.
Today, although the number of boats has multiplied, the number of members remains low. The reason is that FCS has stopped giving new memberships to new boats to avoid new applicants.
Saeed Baloch of the FCS Employees Union (CBA) said the organization was operated by government appointees, who used the income themselves, without hiring community directors.
âNot only the coastal areas of Thatta, Sujawal and Badin, but the coast of Balochistan, although it is larger, stretching over 700 km, is facing a similar situation,â he added.
The Pakistani coast stretches for 1,050 km, including 350 km for Sindh and 700 km for Balochistan. Balochistan contributes more to the fishing port of Karachi in terms of catches and trade.
Due to this kind of manipulation and deprivation, fishermen in Balochistan are planning to go their separate ways and form their own welfare agency. Since they have their own fisheries department, they should have the right to manage their own affairs.
Community activists demand to reactivate membership and remove those who have died from the electoral roll. They are also asking for verification of membership cards through NADRA so that the welfare agency can be saved.
Gulab Shah, representing fishermen from Keti Bunder, Thatta, said there were three categories of boats, including larger, medium and small 20ft boats. Of these, only two categories are eligible for registration under the Company Law and the rest have no role. Otherwise, more than 45,000 boats of all sizes operate along the coast.
Activists believe that society can operate smoothly to serve as a channel through which credit for working and investment capital can reach individual fishermen, instead of going into the pockets of some ministers and bureaucrats.
Some older fishermen still remember the old harbor between what is now Natives Jetty Bridge and the hotel (luxury on the beach), where they used old boats with sales.
After the construction of Natives Jetty Bridge and Keamari as a new settlement, the old system was disrupted, as it was not possible for sailboats to pass under the bridge.
According to them, even the current fishing and harbor market was too crowded to accommodate boats, traders, the auction system and entry for community members. They blamed FCS’s neglect of port maintenance and cleanliness for the European Union (EU) ban on seafood exports. This ban had been causing problems for people associated with fishing for generations, they said.
Shaukat Hussain, director of FCS, said they had not yet revised the precise membership list. âCurrently, we have an old membership record, in which 11,182 members can vote. But typically 1,800 to 2,000 voters participate in the process.
Speaking about the EU’s ban on the export of seafood imposed in 2012, the director of FCS said that there were only two companies registered to export seafood. Officially, the team EU inspectorate earlier had to inspect and authorize the process, but due to the delay, the problem remained unsolved.