Rajasthan's Fishing Communities: What Drives 2300 Tribal Families at Jaisamand Lake Towards Forced Migration?

Most tribal fishermen rely solely on fishing for their livelihood, which often falls short of sustaining them throughout the year. The annual fishing ban during the monsoon season exacerbates their financial struggles, forcing them to seek alternative livelihoods.
Decades ago, Jaisamand Lake boasted abundant varieties of fish like Rohu, Katla, Mrigal, Lanchi, Singhada, Bam, and Sawal, which were highly sought after nationwide.
Decades ago, Jaisamand Lake boasted abundant varieties of fish like Rohu, Katla, Mrigal, Lanchi, Singhada, Bam, and Sawal, which were highly sought after nationwide.

Udaipur- The livelihoods of tribal fishermen at World famous Jaisamand Lake in Rajasthan are under threat, with hundreds being forced to abandon fishing due to dwindling catches.

This has created a severe employment crisis, pushing the younger generation to seek opportunities elsewhere. Inefficient management by the Fisheries Department has exacerbated the situation, leading to the deterioration of the fishing community.

Currently, there are 23 village-based fish producer cooperative societies around Jaisamand Lake, comprising 2500 fishermen and their families.

Previously, these societies were managed by the Rajas Sangh, which were later given to the State Fisheries Directorate but governmental control under the Fisheries Department has not yielded positive results.

Coordination among these societies by the Fisheries Development Officer has been lacking, and fishermen report dissatisfaction with the government's support and facilities.

The Fisheries Department has neglected important responsibilities such as conducting annual financial audits, producing annual reports, and facilitating meetings for fish producer cooperative societies. Even during the pandemic, when support was crucial, there was a notable absence of assistance from the Directorate of Fisheries for fishermen families. Basic necessities like rations, medicines, and vaccinations were not provided.

Fishermen lament the lack of involvement and consultation from the Directorate of Fisheries in decisions affecting the fishery producer cooperative societies. This arbitrary approach has led to the stagnation and eventual inactivity of these societies, rendering fishermen jobless.

In light of these pressing issues and with the well-being of all fishermen families, tribes, and small fishermen in mind, there is a growing demand to transfer the management of the fish producer cooperative societies associated with Jaisamand Lake back to the Rajas Sangh, rather than continuing under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Department. This shift is seen as essential for ensuring the provision of necessary facilities and rights to fish producers. Through conversations with fishermen, committee members, and experts, Mooknayak sought to gain insights into the prevailing challenges in the area.

Over the years, the Directorate of Fisheries Department has failed to effectively deliver the benefits of various government schemes intended for fishermen.
Over the years, the Directorate of Fisheries Department has failed to effectively deliver the benefits of various government schemes intended for fishermen.

Dr. Sunil Dubey, a social activist and expert advocating for the welfare of tribal fishermen, highlights a concerning trend in Southern Rajasthan. In this region, local communities hold fishing rights over three significant reservoirs: Jaisamand Lake in Salumber district, Kadana Lake in Dungarpur district, and Mahi Dam in Banswara district. Presently, these communities are bound to sell their catch to contractors who have secured right through highest bidding for the purchase from suppliers.

" A problematic pattern emerges as the Fisheries Department unilaterally awards purchase contracts to a single contractor for all three reservoirs: Jaisamand Lake, Mahi, and Kadana. Despite each reservoir's substantial size and distinct characteristics, they are bundled under a single contract, raising concerns about fairness and efficiency," Dubey said.

Moreover, the decision-making process lacks transparency and consultation with fish producer cooperative societies. Rates for fish species are determined without input from these societies during the contract auction process. Once the departmental contract is finalized with the contractor, fish producer cooperative societies are merely informed and instructed to weigh fish exclusively with the contracted party. This lack of consultation undermines the autonomy and interests of local fishing communities.

Over the years, the Directorate of Fisheries Department has failed to effectively deliver the benefits of various government schemes intended for fishermen. Essential programs such as fish seed collection, fishery training, model fisherman housing construction, saving cum relief schemes, and free distribution of boats and nets have not reached fishermen as intended. Dr. Dubey emphasizes the need for a thorough departmental inquiry to uncover discrepancies between official records and the ground reality.

Government data indicates the presence of 33 hatcheries across the state, tasked with activities like fish breeding, seed production, and maintaining brood stock. However, the sole hatchery established by the Rajas Sangh below the Jaisamand Lake dam is currently in a deplorable state. Insufficient fish seed production forces fishermen to rely on government-supplied fish seeds. The Directorate of Fisheries exacerbates the situation by arbitrarily importing fish seeds from other states, rather than prioritizing local production and sustainability.

The Fisheries Department fails to inform or consult the cooperative societies about the types and quantities of fish seeds being introduced into the lake.
The Fisheries Department fails to inform or consult the cooperative societies about the types and quantities of fish seeds being introduced into the lake.

Lake's Biodiversity at Risk

The Mooknayak spoke to Govind Meena, administrator of the Fish Producer Cooperative Society in Minduda, who expresses frustration that the Fisheries Department fails to inform or consult the cooperative societies about the types and quantities of fish seeds being introduced into the lake.

This lack of consultation creates challenges for fishermen, who rely on fishing as their livelihood. The Fisheries Department's unilateral decisions on seed selection and stocking disrupt the traditional practice of water farming, jeopardizing fishermen's incomes.

Decades ago, Jaisamand Lake boasted abundant varieties of fish like Rohu, Katla, Mrigal, Lanchi, Singhada, Bam, and Sawal, which were highly sought after nationwide. However, the lake's biodiversity is now at risk.

" To address these issues and ensure the welfare of fishermen and the preservation of natural biodiversity, it is crucial for the Fisheries Department to engage in meaningful consultation with fish producer cooperative societies. By heeding their advice and preferences regarding fish species and stocking practices, fishermen can maximize their benefits while safeguarding the lake's ecological balance," Dr Dubey opined.

Keshulal, affiliated with the Methudi Fisheries Producer Committee, points out that fishermen are being deprived of the benefits of the 'Savings cum Relief' scheme. This scheme is not being enforced according to regulations, and fishermen are not receiving relief funds during the fishing ban period, especially during the rainy season.

As per the scheme, registered fishermen are supposed to contribute a total of Rs 1500 during the fishing season. The State and Central Governments are then expected to match this amount, resulting in a total of Rs 4500. During the fishing ban period, fishermen are entitled to receive a monthly salary of Rs 1500 for three months.

However, the Directorate of Fisheries Department has failed to implement the Saving cum Relief Scheme, and no initiatives have been undertaken to provide financial assistance to fishermen for their sustenance during the fishing ban period. Additionally, there is a pressing need to increase the amount provided under this scheme.

The Fisheries Department has neglected important responsibilities such as conducting annual financial audits, producing annual reports, and facilitating meetings for fish producer cooperative societies.
The Fisheries Department has neglected important responsibilities such as conducting annual financial audits, producing annual reports, and facilitating meetings for fish producer cooperative societies.

Virjiram Meena, a fisherman from Gamdi village, laments the lack of communication between the Fisheries Development Officer appointed by the Directorate and the fishermen administrators and members of the Fish Producer Cooperative Society. He expresses frustration, stating that despite numerous problems faced by the community, there is no one available to listen to their concerns.

The absence of regular meetings and information exchange exacerbates the disconnect between the Fisheries Development Officer and the fishermen administrators and members. Furthermore, there is a glaring lack of monitoring by the Directorate in this regard.

As a result, many fishermen remain unaware of the laws, regulations, and guidelines issued by the Central and State Governments. They have not received any documentation related to the schemes and benefits provided by these authorities through the Fisheries Development Officer.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, fishermen were left uninformed about official guidelines, relief measures, and vaccination efforts, as no information or support was provided by the Fisheries Development Officer.

Govind Meena elaborates that under the management of the Rajas Sangh, administrators/managers ( Vyavasthapak) of fish producer cooperative societies received an honorarium based on a percentage of the fish's weight, considering species and size categories. This system worked well as the reservoir received abundant releases of various fish species, leading to a plentiful yield and proper honorarium for administrators. However, since coming under the Directorate of Fisheries Department, this honorarium has ceased, leaving administrators like Meena struggling.

Shankar Bhil, a member of Ghati Fisheries Producer Committee, emphasizes that most tribal fishermen rely solely on fishing for their livelihood, which often falls short of sustaining them throughout the year. The annual fishing ban during the rainy season exacerbates their financial struggles, forcing them to seek alternative livelihoods. Bhil advocates for all registered fishermen in fish producer cooperative societies to be classified as below the poverty line (BPL) and to disburse government facilities accordingly to them.

He highlights the E-Shram portal launched by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, designed to register all unorganized workers, including small fishermen, for social security schemes.

However, Dr. Sunil Dubey notes that the Directorate of Fisheries Department has failed to inform Jaisamand fishermen about this portal or assist them in registration. Consequently, tribal fishermen in Southern Rajasthan remain deprived of the benefits offered by the Government of India's e-Shram database.

Essential programs such as fish seed collection, fishery training, model fisherman housing construction, saving cum relief schemes, and free distribution of boats and nets have not reached fishermen as intended.
Essential programs such as fish seed collection, fishery training, model fisherman housing construction, saving cum relief schemes, and free distribution of boats and nets have not reached fishermen as intended.

Financial assistance for repair of boats-nets

Currently, there is a fish weighing center in Kherad village, but given the lake's vast expanse of approximately 88 km, more centers are urgently needed in all directions to serve the convenience of the 2500 fishermen families belonging to 23 fish producer cooperative societies.

To address the issue of weighing fish, it's essential to ensure fair practices. Currently, fishermen from remote areas don't come to the Kherad weighing center; instead, contractors weigh fish in villages, often at rates lower than those specified in contracts. Despite this, there is no monitoring by the Directorate of Fisheries Department.

Furthermore, the irregular distribution of boats and nets by the government exacerbates the challenges faced by fishermen. There is no official assistance for repairing and maintaining boats and nets, leaving poor fishermen, including those in the BPL category, to bear the entire expense themselves. As a result, fishermen are often forced to purchase boats and nets from other states at their own expense.

Fishermen demand that to improve the situation, establishing local enterprises for boat-net construction and repair could be beneficial. Additionally, providing training to young fishermen in boat-net construction and repair, followed by financial assistance, could enhance the availability and quality of boat-nets in the region. These measures would not only support fishermen but also contribute to the sustainability of their livelihoods.

The fishing communities of Jaisamand, Kadana, and Mahi lakes are vulnerable to the actions of procurement contractors. During unexpected circumstances like the Covid-19 lockdown, when contractors ceased procurement or in cases of withdrawing contracts, the Fisheries Department lacks the authority to intervene and ensure continued fish procurement and marketing. This leaves fishermen without alternative means to sell their catch.

Dr. Dubey proposes ending the practice of exclusively weighing fish through government-appointed contractors. Instead, fishermen should have the option to sell their fish in the market directly. Establishing fish markets in agricultural markets in Salumber, Udaipur district headquarters, and nearby towns would provide fishermen with opportunities to sell their catch alongside grains, vegetables, and fruits. This would enable them to obtain fair prices for their hard work, ensuring their livelihoods and supporting their families without uncertainty.

Decades ago, Jaisamand Lake boasted abundant varieties of fish like Rohu, Katla, Mrigal, Lanchi, Singhada, Bam, and Sawal, which were highly sought after nationwide.
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