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In Gulf of Khambhat, fisherfolk rue political neglect

River Narmada originates at Amarkantak on the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border where the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges meet. PTI file photo

Fifty-year-old Kanubhai Macchi has long forgotten fishing nets, he now works at a poultry farm on the outskirts of this village located along the estuary of the Narmada, about 50 km from Bharuch.

“Fishing is no more a lucrative profession. There is no water in the Narmada, except in the monsoon season,” Kanubhai said unloading crates of eggs from his tempo. He claims that about five years back he used to earn Rs 4-5 lakh during monsoon months. “Now, the earnings have trickled down to less than Rs 50,000,” said Kanubhai. 

Naranbhai Macchi, a fisherman-turned-vegetable vendor, recalls the time when he used to send loads of Hilsa to West Bengal and even Bangladesh, but since the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam was raised to 132 metres, the river here has almost run dry.

Seawater ingress, pollution from the industrial areas of neighbouring Dahej, Ankleshwar and Bharuch, and increased salinity even in groundwater have added to the woes of the people living along the estuary.

“Be it Congress or the BJP, everybody loves to talk about farmers. No one talks about fishermen,” Chimanbhai Tandel, a former sarpanch of this village, told DH here.

“It’s only lip service,” says a dismissive Tandel when pointed out that both the Congress and BJP have dealt at length on fisheries in their respective manifestos.

Tandel has been raising issues related to fishermen with government authorities. “6,000 cusecs of water should be released from the Sardar Sarovar project to ensure a free-flowing river. Now, the release is 600 cusecs, the river runs dry before it reaches here,” he said.

In the nearby Kasva, villagers are happy about government plans to build a barrage at Bhadbhut and hope that it would help them get freshwater instead of the saline water in the borewells.

However, fishermen in Bhadbhut are unhappy at the government plans to build a barrage. “For Hilsa to breed, it is necessary for the sea water to mix with the river water. A barrage will completely stop Hilsa breeding here,” said Nanubhai.

River Narmada originates at Amarkantak on the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border where the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges meet. It travels through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat before emptying into the Arabian Sea at the Gulf of Khambhat here.

With the commissioning of the Garudeshwar weir that creates a reservoir for the Statue of Unity dedicated to Sardar Vallbhbhai Patel at Kevadia, the village gets very little fresh water, said Nanubhai, who now runs a grocery shop in the village.

Bhadbhut comes under the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat which went to polls on Tuesday. Mansukhbhai Vasava, the sitting BJP member, is locked in a contest with Sherkhan Abdul Shakkur Pathan of the Congress and Chhotubhai Vasava of the Bharat Tribal Party.

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