KARACHI, Oct 26: The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, condemning the alleged atrocities committed by law-enforcement agency personnel against the fishermen in Badin district, launched a week-long protest programme , including the observance of black day on Nov 3.

Speaking at a press conference, PFF chief Syed Mohammad Ali Shah, Saeed Baloch, Adam Malik and others, on Tuesday demanded that the lakes, ponds and coastal areas of Badin district be got vacated by the Thar Rangers' to end exploitation of the fishermen at the hands of law enforcers.

Announcing the protest programme, they said meetings would be held with the civil society, non-governmental and community-based organizations, besides political parties, parliamentarians, intellectuals, writers, and people belonging to other sections of society, to get their support on the issue.

They said that rallies would be organized and protest demonstrations be held at the Karachi Fish Harbour, Balochistan, Thatta, Manchhar Lake, besides Badin. A public meeting would also be held at Ibrahim Haidery on Nov 21 against the atrocities of the Thar Rangers, and for the approval of sustainable fisheries policies in the country.

They said after observing the World Fisheries Day on Nov 21, a long-march would be undertaken from Kadhan in Badin district to the Governor's House in Karachi.

Giving the background of the issue, they said that in early 1980s, the Rangers had made a request to the government for allowing their jawans, posted in Badin for law and order duties, to catch fish for their consumption, which was granted.

The leaders said that the Rangers began to occupy lakes and ponds in Badin district one by one, and at present they had fully occupied over a dozen big coastal lakes, a large number of small ponds, besides private land that had been converted into saline ponds after the 1999 cyclone in the areas.

They said that the Thar Rangers had appointed contractors, and the fishermen were forced to sell their fish and shrimp catch to these 'favoured' people.

The contractors offered rock-bottom prices for the catch, they added, citing an example that the big-sized shrimp that was sold in the Karachi for Rs300, the fishermen were forced to sell this shrimp between Rs15 and Rs20 to the contractor.

They said that after being exploited for many years, the fishermen at last joined hands to protest against the atrocities and an all parties conference was organized in Badin on the issue, where participants expressed their solidarity with the fishermen. The fishermen also announced that they would not sell their catch to the contractors appointed by the Thar Rangers, after Nov 22, they added.

They alleged that a few days back, two gun-totting Thar Rangers jawans in civvies stormed Bakhsh Ali Malah goth in Bughra Memon Union Council, Badin, and started torturing fishermen, seriously injuring two women, Ms Chagul and Janaat Mallah, and a few men.

They said the villagers caught these attackers and brought them to the Kadhan Police Station, but in the meantime, the Rangers higher authorities approached the police, and the police instead of taking action against the intruding jawans, arrested the four villagers - including PFF Badin general secretary Nabi Bux, Bakhar Malah and Jan Mohammad Malah. The arrested people were being severely tortured by the police, they alleged.

They said that the Rangers'job was to protect the country's borders and they had no right to terrorize the people living in the coastal areas, or give fishing contracts for the lakes, a prerogative of the Sindh Fisheries department.

They feared that if the Rangers' illegal occupation of the lakes and other fish sources in the coastal areas was not ended, in future other law-enforcing agencies might also come and start harassing the fishermen and deprive them of their livelihood.