Rising hopes of fishermen; unfulfilled promises of the govt
By Jan Khaskheli
The delayed Manchar Lake housing project has added to the miseries of the fishermen who have been putting up with the repeated injustices meted out by the government.
Thirteen years ago in 1995, when the PPP-led provincial government launched the housing project for fishermen near the Manchar Lake, it raised hopes of the community that had earlier been residing in their traditional boat villages scattered in the surrounding area of the lake. However, today, beneficiaries of the project appear disappointed as certain parties with vested interests have been involved in the manipulation of funds allocated for setting up of the model villages, including donation of some fishing tools for the fishermen community.
The project was initially launched by the PPP-led government in 1995 to accommodate the fishermen families. The government also identified the deserving families and sites for establishing four villages.
The site identified for one of the villages was in Jhangara Union Council and the other three in Bobak Union Council – all situated near the bank of Manchar Lake. Under the said project, the first village, Haji Abdul Rehman Mallah comprises 200 homes, Haji Qadir Bakhsh Mallah village consists of 300 homes, Haji Malook Mallah village of 375 homes and some 150 homes make up the fourth village, Maula Bakhsh Mallah.
Apart from this, under the project, the government was to donate 375 boats, 375 engines, fishing nets and bicycles to the deserving people. "The idea of donating bicycles was to facilitate the youth of the community to sell their product in the nearby areas themselves without being exploited at the hands of the middleman," Kolachi learnt from activists in the area.
The provincial government purchased the land in 1995 following which allotment orders (of the plots) were issued to the families. The plots were spread over an area of 2400 sq ft each.
Before the announcement of this project, the fishermen community had been quite marginalized. There was no concept of education among the community and even the young members of the children were not enrolled neighbouring educational institutes due to poverty.
It has been learnt that poverty struck the fishermen community in this area when lake water became toxic due to the discharge of poisonous agricultural and urban waste released into the lake through the mega water project 'Right Bank Outfall Drainage (RBOD)' flowing from upcountry areas. This toxic water affected marine life and the lake was rendered useless, which was a source of livelihood for hundreds of families.
Following the tradition of their forefathers, children of fishermen are born and raised on the boats and spend their entire life at the sea. The leisure activities of the children include swimming, fishing, running small boats in the water and poaching birds.
However, the former Chief Minister Sindh Arbab Rahim, whose government re-launched the development project, raised the hopes of this ignored community until bureaucratic hurdles and political instability once again sabotaged the project depriving the people of basic housing facility for long.
Mustafa Meerani, a local activist told Kolachi that at the time (in 1995) the population of the lake comprised some 25,000 people. But later when the Manchar Lake became polluted through the foreign funded RBOD, a large number of families migrated to other water bodies in search of livelihood. The remaining population deriving their livelihood from the Manchar comprises approximately 10,000 to 15,000 people. Most of them are still living at their traditional boats under the lake water in shape of boat villages, referred by different names.
Although the present PPP-led government decided to continue with the project and awarded contracts to initiate construction work at 120 homes in Maula Bakhsh village as well, the work could not be completed in the stipulated time of two months. Activists say it is the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries to monitor and implement the project.
Meerani revealed that that when the project was initiated recently, some 'corrupt elements' within the community were active in manipulating the funds – a fact activists pointed out to the concerned authorities to save the funds for the community.
According to Meerani, activists witnessed that substandard construction material was being used to construct the boats. After much hue and cry, the government took notice following which the community formed an 11-member committee to monitor the entire project and implement the same in close cooperation with concerned contractor, government officials and the community elders, he added.
He said the PC-I prepared for the project shows the actual cost of a single boat was Rs50,000. The government had allocated fund for the purpose, but the community observed that the contractor was building small boats, which could be purchased at Rs25000. The remaining amount from government funds was being pocketed by the concerned officials.
The lake was the only source of livelihood for fishermen and agriculturists as well, who used the water to irrigate lands of two Talukas, Sehwan and Johi of the Dadu district around 15 to 20 years ago. But since the government found it fit to discharge agricultural water through the RBOD, both the communities are facing difficulty. The toxic water is not suitable for consumption, marine life or cultivation, forcing the community to opt for alternatives for the survival of their families.
Due the increasing marine pollution in Manchar Lake, certain fish and birds species are depleting and water vegetables are being destroyed too. Besides, the pollution has also led widespread waterborne diseases. The community is facing acute shortage of drinking water too.
Recalling their blissful days, the old fishermen said there were days when there was an abundance of fish, bird species and water vegetables for their earning as well as for their families' nutrition. "The people of Manchar looked healthier and were generous too. They used to celebrate their marriages with traditional enthusiasm."
However, the RBOD effluent has occupied thousands of acres fertile land and villages from different sides, displacing hundreds of fishermen, agriculturists along with their families. Communities that migrated to safer locations have not yet received compensation from the authorities either, said activists.
Earlier, the lake received most of its fresh water from River Indus, and surrounding hills, apart from the torrential rain and floods, but there is a drought-like situation in the mountainous areas depriving the River Indus of fresh water. The Manchar Lake consequently receives no fresh water and on top of it, effluent is being discharged into it through RBOD and other waterways threatening those dependent on the lake for their livelihood.
Some environmentalists earlier suggested that the government establish a Manchar Development Authority, so violators can be held accountable. They blamed the government departments, including Sindh Wildlife, Fisheries, Irrigation and Tourism departments for their lack of interest in resolving the problems of the area. "The concerned departments that are responsible for the improvement of these water bodies are not playing their due role," they complained.
Moreover, there is not a single hut for tourists visiting the area, which proves that the Manchar Lake is not a priority of the Tourism Department, say observers.
Now that government has launched a laudable project, it should also make arrangements to monitor the scheme and prevent corrupt practices, as pointed out by the activists, to improve the living conditions of this deserving community.
Rising hopes of fishermen; unfulfilled promises of the govt