At four in the morning, the Kasimedu fish market is already abuzz with activity from the first catch of the morning being brought in by small boats and trawlers. The market soon opens to the public and one can get a variety of fresh fish every morning. Fishermen bring in their catch on long, narrow boats which are no more than a couple of planks of wood hammered together. They then proceed to unload the fish and take them to the market place in baskets. The whole area is covered with slime and fins, and the market place is always wet with melted ice. Though the area is part of the Port Trust of India’s property and the fishing activity is informal and relies on old and rudimentary boats and equipment, the fishermen currently supply fish to some of the top hotels in the city.
There is no proper manner in which the discarded fish and fish parts can be disposed in a hygienic way, and it is not unusual to find piles of these left lying to rot for days at a stretch. The area is extremely dirty and unhygienic, and though the fishing communities are able to eke out a daily living, it is obvious that there is much that needs to be done to improve the facilities in order for them to prosper from the activity.
Residents of Royapuram zone, some of whom engage in the fishing activity, are keen to improve the harbour and market area. This is an issue that has come up several times, including in CDF’s Local Economic Environment Planning programme as well as in the initial discussions with residents through Transparent Chennai’s Ward Accountability Experiment. In December 2011, there were media reports saying that the area was going to be developed and the facilities upgraded. However, the more crucial issues will centre on access by fishing communities to the improved facilities and recognition of their rights to continue to live in the area and not be relocated.
Written by Satyarupa Shekhar, researcher at Transparent Chennai. Photographs by Linda Graeble.