COVID-19 in Mumbai: Story of a few good men who played saviour to fishermen in Madh Island

Updated: Apr 24, 2020, 07:21 IST | Samiullah Khan | Mumbai

The exhilarating story of how a handful of good men came to the aid of 20 starving fishing workers in Madh Island, via helping hands from their families in Uttar Pradesh, Dahisar do-gooders and the Mumbai police

The fishing contract workers stuck in Madh Island have no roof over their heads and have been living under trees
The fishing contract workers stuck in Madh Island have no roof over their heads and have been living under trees

The lockdown, now in its second month in India, has left nearly two dozen contractual labourers working on fishing boats in Mumbai on the brink of starvation. Owners of fishing trawlers have allegedly sacked them to recover the 'heavy losses' they have incurred during the lockdown. However, for these 20 men stuck on a patch of land with just one meal a day since April 18, a bunch of good Samaritans have overcome hurdles to get them some desperately needed sustenance.

When a mid-day team visited Madh Island on Thursday though, around 20 contractual labourers were seen struggling to find shelter in the nearby jungles to avoid the scorching sun. Most of them claimed to have had just one meal throughout the day for the past six days. A few of them had earlier contacted their relatives back in Sultanpur and Jaunpur areas of Uttar Pradesh to request food and shelter arrangements in Mumbai.

"We had been working on a contract basis for Pushpagandha Boat whose owner is Moreshwar Koli. Our contract was signed in September and was supposed to end on May 31. But due to the lockdown, the owner grounded three of the seven labourers to cut labour costs," said 32-year-old Jaunpur native Amit Nishad, adding, "I have not been paid and am forced to live in this jungle without any food. We can't even travel."

The men say they have hardly eaten since April 18
The men say they have hardly eaten since April 18

The relatives of these stranded labourers back in UP soon contacted their acquaintance in Mumbai and a UP native himself, Rama Vishwakarma.

The Dahisar East resident, who runs a catering business and owns a marriage hall there, decided to help. He contacted his associates who soon headed to Madh Island. His vehicle was stopped by Malwani police but they let him go after they saw the relief packets and a constable accompanied him for safety reasons.

"The state government must provide shelter to them or allow me to take them to my place so that I can give them better hospitality during this lockdown," said Vishwakarma.

'They don't work hard'

Another labourer said that the boat he worked on was grounded on April 18. "We have barely eaten since then. We are seven people working for Vishweshwar Boat whose owner is Ajay Koli. We were assured R13 lakh as remuneration for catching fish in the sea from September to May. But we have not been given this money," he said.

Ajay Koli, however, alleged that the labourers were "not taking efforts to catch fish." He told mid-day, "Besides being lazy, they have also damaged the fishing net which cost me a bomb to repair. I have incurred heavy losses after hiring them."

"They have been telling me that there are not enough fish in the sea when my competitors have been making huge profits out of this fishing business," added Koli, who was called by the Malwani police when he told them that he was a "cancer patient."

"I have not sacked them. I asked them to stay at Madh Island as they cannot travel in this lockdown," Koli told Malwani police, "We have made arrangements for their stay and food in nearby areas but they were not ready for it. They want to stay put on the boats where they usually stay when business is operational. But we have now folded up the boats and packed them so cannot let them stay on the boats and they are unwilling to stay anywhere else."

A 35-year-old native of Mirpur, Vinod Nishad, worked for God U fishing boat of Milton Koli. "I have been grounded without any reason. I have not been given the money promised to me in the contact," said Nishad. mid-day's calls and messages sent to Milton went unanswered.

'Was their decision'

Kiran Koli, the general secretary of Maharashtra Macchimar Kruti Samitee, said, "There was a meeting with all the fishing boat owners and government officials to discuss how to continue business in this lockdown. The government gave us permission to venture into the sea and 98 per cent of the contractual labourers agreed to work with us. The rest of them decided to discontinue work during this lockdown."

The men have also run out of water
The men have also run out of water

"Their owners had also made arrangements for their living and food but they don't want to live there. There are many places in Madh where they can live. Many daily wage workers are currently living in the mandir premises too whose food is being arranged by our people. I'll talk to these labourers too and make arrangements for their stay and food," he added.

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