Rights activists demand action against landlord occupying Sujawal lake
KARACHI: Civil society activists and fishermen based in Sujawal district held a press conference on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club, demanding action against a landlord who, they alleged, had illegally occupied a lake in the district and barred hundreds of fishermen from earning a livelihood from the lake.
The presser was jointly organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and the Joint Action Committee (JAC). The Kun Purao Lake allegedly under illegal occupation is located in union council Ladiyoon of Shahbander taluka, Sujawal district.
“The lake spread over 1,000 acres is a glaring example of how influential landlords backed by political and administrative support have illegally occupied freshwater bodies across Sindh,” said head of PFF Mohammad Ali Shah, adding that the lake had been the source of livelihood for poor fishermen for decades.
“Currently, 300 households of the fishing community are directly dependent on the lake for survival but they have been barred from fishing,” he said.
According to him, there are 1,219 water bodies across Sindh, including Kun Purao Lake, whose name was mentioned in the list maintained by the provincial fisheries department as well as in the official record on Thatta’s water bodies.
“Fishermen have historic fishing rights over this lake and have also been issued licences under the Sindh Fisheries (Amendment Act) and rule 3 of the Sindh Fisheries Rules 1983 by the deputy director of fisheries, Thatta, and directorate of fisheries Sindh inland, Hyderabad,” he said in reply to a question.
He alleged that political manoeuvring had started to benefit the landlord and some government officials were using their position to benefit him.
“The list on Sindh’s water bodies issued by the Sindh fisheries department clearly carries the name of Kun Purao Lake, where it stands at number 1,151,” he said.
Speakers at the event also traced the history of fishing licensing/contract system, explaining how fishermen had been facing hurdles in fishing in this lake for the last six years.
Their legal battle for fishing rights over the lake started when private goons of the landlord threatened fishermen upon which they wrote letters to all relevant police officials but to no avail.
Later, fishermen approached the senior sessions judge of Thatta and got an FIR registered against those private goons. But they continued to receive threats. Finally, they filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court in which the state counsel submitted during the hearing that these fishermen would be provided protection.
On this assurance, the court disposed of the petition and ordered respondents not to harass fishermen and that both parties were at liberty to resolve their dispute at a proper forum.
“The court order was followed by the registration of a fake FIR, which was later disposed of. Fishermen also filed a suit in the court of senior civil judge, Sujawal. However, till date they are barred from fishing. Private gunmen are stationed at the lake’s both sides who off and on use different tactics to harass and intimidate fishermen,” said Mr Shah.
On the part of his NGO, he said, it had been demonstrating for rights of Sujawal’s fishermen in various districts and had written letters to all relevant officials, including the chief minister, minister for livestock and fisheries, chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission and secretary for livestock and fisheries. But there had been no response yet.
“Only the Sindh Human Rights Commission has responded by issuing notices to the authorities concerned,” he said, adding that the situation was a serious violation of human rights and warranted early action.
Representatives of other NGOs — Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Asad Iqbal Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation — also supported the fishermen’s stance.