Sun. Jul 3rd, 2022
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Eye on polls, both ruling BJP and Congress are reaching out to the affected community

Eye on polls, both ruling BJP and Congress are reaching out to the affected community

Abid, a mechanic on the coast of Veravel in Gujarat, earns his livelihood by servicing the boats of fishermen. He is now looking for other vocations in other cities as the fishermen are unable to pay him. “The sea has started drying up. There is no fish. So how will they pay me,” he asks. His father was also a helper at the yard in Veravel.

The steep increase in diesel prices, freight cost that went up six times in two years and the dwindling fish production are creating a distress-like situation in the coastal belt of Gujarat, giving tough times for the ruling BJP ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections. The belt of about 33 seats had supported the Congress in 2017 and the Opposition party won 24 seats. This year, the BJP is trying to address the woes of fishermen and industries in the fishing sector ahead of the elections. The Congress is also equally engaged to improve its tally and is ready with a lot of promises to voters in the belt.

Market concerns

More than five lakh people are directly involved in the fisheries sector and Gujarat is the largest exporting State in terms of volume. Several processing units have been shut due to lack of orders from China and European markets. The president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India and a former Mayor of Veravel, Jagdish Fofandi, said there were market and fiscal concerns for the sector. Mr. Fofandi, a BJP activist, said the freight charges had increased six times.

“In aquaculture products, for the U.S. market, the rate increased from ₹15 to ₹70 a kilogram. Because of the increase, the fishermen are not getting adequate prices. We are also not getting our working capital as the payment is usually delayed for months. It is a major issue. Certain units have been forced to shut as Chinese markets have been closed due to COVID 19 restrictions. We do not have a favourable free trade agreement with the European Union. So countries like Vietnam get the benefit of import tax concessions,” he said.

50% women workers

“Diesel price and high duty are the major issues here. There is no fishing industry without fishermen. They used to get subsidy in excise duties for the diesel they use in their boats and now it is very limited,” said the Gujarat region president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India, Ketan C Suyani. “About 50% of the workers in processing units are women. So any help to this sector is also a help to the women of Gujarat,” Mr. Suyani said.

The inland fishing too is in crisis due to decrease in prices. “For fishing backwater prawns, we use boats and if the water is shallow we walk and do fishing. This product is dependent on the mix of fresh water from rains and the sea water. The season is limited to July, August and September. About 22,000 people of the Maliya-Miyana block are working in this mode of fishing. There are 16 settlements of fishermen in these blocks who do this traditional form of fishing. They do not get adequate price. For a box of 18-20 kilos they get ₹600. Since the season is short, middlemen are their only resource. They do not have cold storage facilities,” said Ramesh Parmar, who works among inland fishermen in Morbi district.

BJP leader and Junagadh MP Rajeshbhai Chudasama also agrees that both the industries and the fishermen are facing a lot of problems. “We have also asked the governments to address these concerns. These are policy issues. I am sure that the governments will address it. Another issue is that the production is down. We should make it sure that juvenile fish are not caught by fishermen. We are trying to educate fishermen about this,” he said.

The Congress says the BJP did nothing to protect a segment that contributes a lot to the GDP of the State and the country. “We will include the problems of fishermen in our manifesto. They need a better cooperative system, rebate on excise duty and a minimum export price for what they catch. Gujarat fishermen get the lowest fuel subsidy compared to other States. The umbrella cooperative of fishermen, Gujarat Fisheries Central Co-operative Association Limited (GFCCA) is functioning under bureaucrats. There should be marketing yards for fishery products and the trolling ban in both the gulfs of Gujarat should be reconsidered,” said Congress’ Dwaraka district president Yasin Gajan.

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