It is still raining as I type this from my room in Bhubaneswar. The newspaper says that the low depression over the Bay of Bengal since the beginning of the week will continue to lash the state for the next 24 hours. This means that the public hearing scheduled for June 21st will hopefully not have participants soaked through their skins and walking in the rain from another village to attend the hearing. This is exactly what happened at the previous hearing!
On the morning of June 16th I was ready to set out for Kharinasi village, only to realise that no one had actually turned up for the meeting. I was almost sure that the government officials from the fisheries and forest departments would refuse to make the three hour trip from the town into the village with the rain and bad roads. But my phone rang at 8 am and the forest department official wanted to know if we were still going ahead with the meeting, because, you know, he was ready and just wanted to check if we were considering cancelling it. No way!
By the time I reached the village, the canopy was up and the vegetables were being chopped for lunch. It was raining. Then we had our first batch of villagers come in and then some more. Soon enough, all the panellists for the consultation arrived and the meeting began. The fishermen brought up very valid points about how there is a lack of information about the income generation scheme and they do not even know who to contact for the initial investments and training needs etc.
By this time about 40 people from another village arrived (they took a boat after they realised that the wooden bridge connection to Kharinasi was broken). It was still raining.
Sankar Gochayat from Suniti village narrated his experience about sea bass culture and how he learnt not to take seeds from the wild after having incurred losses in the initial years. The Additional Director of Fisheries then explained in detail the ill effects of such a practice and the feeding and breeding patterns of sea bass. Concerns were raised about aquaculture and they were accepted by the project officials.
More case studies about goat rearing and poultry farming were discussed. Kalpana didi talked about her successful fish farming venture which she invested in after having learnt it from a book! These case studies and other data that Greenpeace along with its local partner United Artists Association, collected in 15 sample villages around Gahirmatha would help fishermen and the project agencies implement the proposed income generation scheme better.
We wrapped up with people and the panellists agreeing on a common set of recommendations for the program and then one of the panellists told me, “Greenpeace is doing what the government should have done.” In one line, he actually summarised what the fisher communities have been asking for so long. Consultations with the community on laws and schemes that affect their lives and livelihoods should be the priority if they want it to succeed.
We bundled up in the vehicle at 4 pm to leave the village, happy, tired and still listening to the rain fall steadily.
Image: © Greenpeace/Biswaranjan Rout