LHC grants stay order against auction of fresh water fishing lease in Punjab


-bonded fishermen provided temporary relief

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) last week granted a stay order against the auction of fishing rights in Punjab’s rivers and freshwater reservoirs.

The petition was submitted on behalf of three petitioners including Khadim Hussain, a member of Sindhu Bachao Tarla (Save the Indus Plea) by Advocate Syed Ghazenfur Shah. The petition argues that the Punjab Fisheries Department’s decision to auction freshwater fishing rights to contractors has forced traditional fisher communities in Punjab to go into debt bondage.

Advocate Shah argued that the current lease system of fishing prevailing on approximately 350 water bodies in Punjab has led to the economic and social destitution of the fishers. He explained that the lease system auctions off public waters to private individuals who then exercise a monopoly to fish on these waters which include rivers, ponds and lakes. This deprives the traditional fisher communities from their right to fish freely, forcing them instead to sell their catch to the leaseholders at paltry rates. Leaseholders extract extraordinary economic gains by exploiting the skill and labour of the fishers while providing minimum revenue to the public exchequer.

The petition put forward had requested the court to strike down the lease system on the grounds that it was in contravention to the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 1992. It also requested that the court recognise the rights of these traditional communities to fish and their key role in protecting the fragile river ecosystem.

Justice Shams Mehmood Mirza granted a stay order on the auction and directed the Punjab Fisheries Department to respond to the petitioner’s claims.

The next hearing has been scheduled for October 11.

The lease system was abolished in Sindh by the provincial government due to overwhelming evidence of its devastating impact on fisher communities.

Petitioner Khadim Hussain said that in addition to the exploitation of the fisher communities, leaseholders often force fishers to overfish and employ other environmentally harmful practices.

He further said that numerous complaints have been made to the Fisheries Director General (DG) and other government departments, but to no avail, often resulting in violence against fishers by the leaseholders. He said that numerous studies the world over have linked robust community-based rights for small fishers to sustainable fishing and protection of biodiversity.