A gift of a fishing net has changed the life of Godha Ayub Gani, resident of Modhva village in Kutch district of Gujarat, forever. Sounds more like a fairytale than a real life story? Gani Bhai agrees. He describes it as his “dream come true”. A little more than a year ago, he, like hundreds of fishermen and women living in small hamlets in coastal Kutch, was caught in a deadly debt trap, laid out by the local money lenders. Till Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned of Tata Power Company stepped in.
The site of CGPL’s flagship scheme, 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Plant, envelopes Modhva and Mundra Talukas of Kutch, . CGPL has joined hands with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) (India) to drive Sagarbandhu (Friend of the Ocean farers), a community based sustainable livelihood programme for the fishing community here. As a part of this initiative, state-of-the-art fishing nets were distributed to a chosen group of men and women. Chaba Harun Mamad was one of the beneficiaries. “The nets were designed to trap lobsters, king fish and pomfrets—all varieties that fetch top notch prices. Today, I am a proud owner of a boat and am able to get good earning from the fish catch to meet all my requirements” declares a glowing Mammad
And he is not the only lucky one. Mammadhai, a 40 year old Modhva dweller, is convinced that the presence of CGPL in his village has changed the destiny of those who have lived there for generations.
So what is CGPL’s magic formula? “A strong partnership between the Company and the communities, mutual trust and commitment, “asserts the staff of AKSRP , who has worked as a village coordinator with the Modhva Mariners.
To comprehend the significance of this remark we need to delve a bit into the background.
The fisherfolks here are dependent on traditional fishing equipment, and borrow heavily from local fish traders at the beginning of the season. And are then compelled to sell their catch of the entire season to the lenders at abysmally low rates. With these facts identified, the planning began.
The final decision was, however, to be taken by the Village Development Advisory Committee (VDAC). VDAC was constituted by CGPL in collaboration with the Gram Panchayat right at the outset. It represents the local population and acts as the Company’s ‘first contact point’ for all development related work.
So the Company organised a series of discussion sessions with VDAC. The agenda was to draw up a comprehensive list of community development initiatives that could be rolled out locally. However, the interminable indebtedness of the locals, especially of the Khalashis and Pagadiyas, was identified as a major roadblock.
Since the VDAC is a co-operative, it was decided that CGPL would provide a Revolving fund of Rs. 6 lakhs for fisherfolks to avail of credit facilities without running the risk of being entrapped and exploited. A group of 22 Khalasi Fishers were selected as beneficiaries for the first roll by the VDAC . One per cent monthly interest was charged to each beneficiary as per the loan amount. The fisherfolks were also asked to sell some varieties of fish to the VDACs at a mutually agreed rate. The VDACs then sell the catch at a higher price in markets. At the end of the year stock taking was done. The result was promising. Of Rs. 6 lakh, the loan amount of Rs. 1.46 lakh had been repaid by the loanees.
Over and above that the VDAC had made a profit out of its fish transactions. Upgraded fish nets were purchased and distributed among the locals to mark the new found affluence.
So far so smooth. CGPL, it appears, has found a way to provide for the Modhva mariners, without exposing them to the rigid formalities of an official system, or driving them into the arms of fraudulent moneylenders.
No mean feat this.