Fisherfolk from western coastal line; Thalawila, Kalpitiya and Negombo protesting in Colombo
Yahapalanaya as the term suggests must work for the well-being of Sri Lankan people. It must seek justice and development for the people. But what is often heard from the mouths of Yahapalanaya leaders are promises. The President and the Prime Minister are often abroad trying to get investors to come and start industries and generate more jobs for Sri Lankans, while at the same time, permitting China and India to deprive Sri Lankans their legitimate rights, cause deprivation, poverty and alienation and deny the right to lead lives worthy of human dignity and social equality. Take for example, the plight of the fisher-folk in the North and in the South of Sri Lanka. Within the country, the inability of the government to forbid the use of illegal methods of fishing has become the cause of violent protests, injury, destruction of property and rivalry.
Indian Trawlers in Sri Lankan waters
Yahapalanaya continues to allow the Indian fishermen to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) illegally, employ illegal methods of fishing and harvest our marine resources, cause their depletion and deprive our fisher-families the right to fish in our territorial waters and earn their livelihood. Sri Lanka is losing about Rs.5,000 million annually. These facts have been well made known through the Daily Mirror by Sarah Muiz (Oct.13, 2016) by S. Emithiyaz Pillai, The President of the United Fishermen’s Federation (Oct.13, 2006), by Steve Creech, a fishery consultant (Oct.2, 2013; July 22, 2015; May 5, 2016) by Anthony David (Feb.21, 2016) by the JVP (Oct.14,2016) and by me (Oct.27, 2015). Yahapalanaya’s inability to stop this plundering of Sri Lankan resources by India is causing great anxiety and desperation in the fisher-families in the Districts of Mannar, Jaffna, Mullativu, Trincomalee and Puttalam. Not only are the fisher-families being deprived of their livelihood but also of thousands of Sri Lankan families (fish sellers, repair centres and centres for the sale of fishing gear) who depend on the fishing population for job opportunities and their own livelihood.
The Colombo Port City project
Let us also look at the plight of the fisher-folk in the South, especially on the Western coastal belt of Sri Lanka, due to the Port city Project by China Harbour Engineering Company. The consequences of this project will be the massive excavation of sand, destruction of the rocky reefs, coral reefs and sand dunes, the breeding of fish, the displacement and denial of the livelihood for thousands of fisher-families living along the coastal belt from Moratuwa to Negombo and also the denial of job opportunities for thousands of families who depend on the fishing population. These facts have been made known through various protests organized by people with the support of leaders who are concerned with the harm that will be caused both to the fisher-folk, marine resources and to the natural environment.
The Colombo Port City project will affect more than 100,000 people who depend on the fishing industry. Even the Environment Impact Assessment Report (EIA) has recognized the fact that fishermen will be affected. On October 1, 2016, protest-demonstrations were staged in some places between Uswetakeiyawa and Negombo by the fisher-folk led by the Religious leaders and several organisations pointing out to the negative effects that would be caused to the fisher-families, the education of their children and their grandchildren, the marine resources and the natural environment. On the 17th, fishermen in Negombo began to demonstrate their displeasure and concern publicly supported by priests against the dredging of sand from the seabed, which would destroy the breeding grounds of fish, prawns and crabs thereby depriving them of their livelihood and that of the future generation not to mention the environmental damage.
Illegal methods of fishing
The use of ‘laila’ and ‘surukku’ nets used by many Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen is causing a lot of damage to our marine resources, the fishing industry and to the livelihood of many fishing communities in Sri Lanka and that of the future generation. Often the fishermen dive into the sea and surround the shoals of fish and harvest them. The use of this technique is causing the depletion of fish species besides destroying the corals and other breeding grounds in the sea. Marine biologists, environmentalists and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) have shown the harm that would be caused by the use of the banned nets.
The inability of the government to stop the illegal use of ‘laila’ and ‘surukku’ nets has caused violent protests, fights, injuries and destruction of property and lack of peace and harmony within the fishing villages and communities. While the government is emphasizing the need for peace and reconciliation among the racial and religious groups, it has failed to bring peace and harmony within the fishing villages and communities -- an important productive sector in the country. The grace period given by the Ministry of Fisheries for the fishermen to use Laila and Surukku nets has also been a cause for uninterrupted forms of protests and tension and the lack of peace and harmony in fishing villages and towns.
The Government’s duty
The Government’s duty is to protect our natural resources, promote the common good, maintain justice and peace in Sri Lanka by resisting the evil oppressing forces which can create exclusion of some social groups and social inequality and thus lead to violent protests and destruction of human life and property. It should therefore avoid favouring through subtle ways the vested interests of some people, politicians or political parties. At the rate the extinction or elimination of fish species and the fish breeding grounds are taking place, due to illegal methods of fishing, preventive action not taken by the Government will lead to loss of livelihood many other problems. If and when that happens, there will always be occasions for violent protests, deaths and the tarnishing of the image of the Government, of the people of Sri Lanka.
Therefore justice and common good must prevail, not profit-oriented interests of individuals,organisations and politicians. Pope Francis in his Encyclical, Laudato Si wants people of goodwill to be concerned about ecological issues, fisheries being one of them. He expects government, civil authorities and the Catholic Church to promote the common good, justice, inclusion and social equality. He says that there will be room for violence if exclusion and social inequality are not eliminated.