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Space For Rent
Sunday, November 30, 2014, Agrahayan 16, 1421, Safar 6, 1436 Hijr

Leasing of haors forces fishermen to take up other profession
Banani Mallick
Published : Sunday, 30 November, 2014,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 34
Mohammad Nazimuddin, a rickshaw puller toiling for a living on the streets of Dhaka, was born 47 years ago in a desolate "haor" area in northeastern district of Sunamganj -- rich in fish and rice - and awash through half the year with water coming down the hills of India's Meghalaya state -- making it also one of the country's most beautiful sites.
But Nazimuddin, who came from a fishing family, has now lost the profession he inherited and recalls sadly his past that he laments would never come back. But pangs of life are increasing, he says.
Talking with the Daily Observer on a recent day outside the National Press Club, Nazimuddin said he was born and raised at Bashtala village in Sripur Union of Taherpur Sansar haor, under Sunamgang district. "Crystal water seeping off the Meghalaya hills used to flood the haor every monsoon and made it one of the country's most prominent fishing area. Besides, thousands of local and migratory birds sheltered in the haor for seasonal nesting and feeding on the fishes," Nazimuddin said.
"It was a scene that still fills my heart and often allures me to go back (to my past). But that would remain a dream as all but few fishermen in the haor have been driven away by those who have taken lease of the water body using money and influence drawn from their connections with political parties and local administration," said the man, apparently ageing ahead of age.
With a fade smile on his face, Nazimuddin said, "I spent the golden days of my childhood and youth nurtured by the water and blasted by the wind of the lavish haor. Those days are gone - maybe forever."
A haor is basically a very low lying river basin area below the level of flood plain, which is also similar to swamp land covered by water almost through half the year starting in monsoon.
Nazimuddin was in fact narrating the lives of many other fishermen from Sunamganj - a district that houses as many as 133 haors - who have now become homeless and been forced to take to other professions.
"Sister, once I had everything -- land, boat, net and profit, but now I am empty. If I tell you about my golden past, you will treat it as story. But that's fact, that's reality." Said Nazimuddin, with tears filling his eyes.
Everything got changed the moment government introduced leasing systems in the wet lands for earning taxes, he said.
"The greedy, influential, rich and powerful people having connections with high government officials and political touts managed to get lease of haor, baor, river islands and other wet land, and have thrown us away. They have taken away our net, our boat and the right of catching fish," he told his correspondent.
He was actually telling the tales of thousands of other fishermen like him - who have been extremely marginalized in society and depend solely on hard physical labour.
The water bodies are leased by government to rich people denying poor people any access to natural resources, said Pavel Partho, an eminent researcher on vulnerabilities of people in haor area.
He said government should seek other ways to earn taxes, rather than from leasing the water bodies which is the prime source of living to local fishermen.
A research report by Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK) shows that some sweet water fish species have already disappeared while many others have been endangered in the haor areas because of climate change, adverse use of pesticides and chemicals for cultivation of food crops, unplanned construction of embankments, sluice gates and roads through the rivers obstructing breeding of fish.
The report says that earlier farmers did not use any fertilizers, chemicals and pesticide for cultivating indigenous rice varieties such as Boro, Gochi, Rata, Tapi but now they cultivate high-yielding rice such as like that required heavy doses of chemical fertilizer and pesticide.
Md Iqbal Hossain, UNO of Taherpur upazila, said they were leasing out water bodies by following proper rules and procedures to the local farmers under a banner of Fishermen Association. But Upazila Chairman of Taherpur Md Kamruzzaman alleged that under the disguise of this association, with only few fishermen onboard, they are actually leasing the wetland to the rich people.
The draft Bangladesh Water Act, July 2009, chapter VII titled Conservation and Protection, suggests that natural water bodies like haors and baors, beels, swamps and marshes which are important for water flow propagation or migratory bird sanctuary will be preserved and protected.
Referring three reasons behind changing profession of fishermen, Abu Naser Khan, Chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba), said that leasing was the worst reason for fishermen altering profession in haor areas.
Jaycharan Barman, 70, a fisherman, whose forefathers also lived on fishing, said, fishermen and other local general people are prohibited from catching fish in and around the leased areas. If they catch, their net and boat will be snatched away by the lease holders and will be beaten up, Jaycharan told this correspondent.
The government has, meanwhile, signed a financing deal with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for a project to improve the living standards of haor people.
The Local Government Engineering Department is assigned to implement the project, which was launched in 2012 and will continue up to June 2019. The project will cover the five Haor basins: Netrokona, Habiganj, Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj and Sunamganj districts.
The livelihood protection component of the project is expected to benefit 94,000 persons directly in 26 upazilas.
Afroza Moazzam, Director General of Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board under Ministry of Water Resources, said that her department has not been informed yet about the migration of fishermen and their access to new profession.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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