While Gujarati cuisine has won accolades for its range of delicately flavoured ‘strictly vegetarian’ savouries, the state of Gujarat is also known for being India’s largest marine fish producer. In its 1640 km long coastline, it accommodates a 4 lakh-strong population of fisherfolks. While the fishing sector is doing brisk business elsewhere in the state, Kutch in the northwest, presents a rather subdued scenario. It has the longest coastline but accounts for a measly 12 per cent of the total fish haul.
Why was Kutch unproductive? Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company, was determined to seek the root of the problem and set it right. Kutch is the site of CGPL’s mammoth and most talked about project—the 4000MW Ultra Mega Power Plant. Work began in earnest a couple of years ago. In 2012 CGPL joined hands with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) to launch Sagarbandhu, a community based sustainable livelihood programme for the fisherfolk living in Tragadi and Modhva villages of Mandvi Taluka. Why focus particularly in this area? Because Tragadi Bunder is a temporary fishing site where once the season is over, the fisherfolk return to the villages. They are jobless for the rest of the year.
The two partners collaborate to find ways and means of providing them alternate sources of income. But their strategy is not merely about offering jobs to the locals. It goes far beyond that. Sagarbandhu aspires to instil a sense of ownership among the fishermen and women in addition to the development works that are being implemented in their villages. It is designed to build their capacity and confidence, ensuring that they continue to prosper even after the project has been phased out. So local institutions such as the Village Development and Advisory Council (VDAC) and Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been set up and are being constantly strengthened. Fishermen are offered technical trainings on new fishing practices and there is a regular upgradation to the infrastructure to ensure safer living conditions and smoother access to local markets.
The expertise and commitment of the two partners have paid rich dividends. The local communities have shed their inhibitions and responded with enthusiasm and genuine interest. Greatly encouraged by the response, the two partners took another step forward and launched Sagarbandhu phase-2 in mid-2013. The main purpose was to widen the base and reach out to as many stakeholders as possible. Again, the team received enthusiastic and whole hearted approval.
And the mood remains as upbeat till date
Mammadhai, a 40 year old fisherman from Modhva, is convinced that CGPL’s partnership has changed the destiny of his village. “It has given the villagers a better bargaining power while availing the benefit of government scheme. It has helped us to source investments for beginning the 8th standard in the village school, to get sanction from higher authorities towards the construction of road, and also to access various other subsidies, loans and grants. Our village has always been in the hinterlands and had been ignored, with no other organisation doing any community development work here. I am certain that CGPL will always maintain this level of commitment to the village and our fishermen community.”