Politics in South 24 Parganas takes over as fishermen grapple with rising diesel prices
Kakdwip: Pabitra Jana had just returned ashore with 11 of his colleagues after spending eight days at sea. The fisherman was cleaning himself after the last trip of this fishing season. From the second week of April, fishermen are not allowed to venture out to sea for three months.
“We sold around 24 tonnes of various types of fish and made 3.6 lakhs of Rs this season. But the cost of our trip was over Rs 3 lakhs, ”Jana told Thread.
In the coastal areas of West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district – including Kakdwip, Diamond Harbor and Namkhana, which go to the polls today, April 1 – people rely heavily on fishing, both inland and marine.
Jana’s fishing buddy, Devprasad Maity, 48, has been fishing for over 25 years. “Right now our livelihoods are at stake due to the continued rise in diesel prices. During this trip, we made a profit of around Rs 55,000. Six or seven months ago, a trip like this would have brought us a profit of 1 to 1.3 lakhs ”, he adds. .
The profit mentioned by Maity will go first to the owner of the boat. Maity, Jana and 10 other crew members will earn a meager salary of Rs 4,000-5,000 per month. There will be a bonus at the end of the season depending on how much profit the owner will make, if at all.
Norottam Mondal, a third-generation fisherman, says it’s not just the rising price of diesel that has affected them. “There has been an increase in almost all essentials. We used to somehow manage a family with a salary of 5,000 rupees, but now it is becoming impossible with constantly increasing prices for mustard oil, vegetables and various things. other things. Many of us would have died without the free ration provided by the state government for the past year, ”he says.
Bijon Maity, general secretary of the Kakdwip Fishermen’s Welfare Association, said a trip required 12 to 13 barrels of diesel. With the recent rise in prices, it has become impossible to stay in the fishing industry.
He says about 80% of the total cost of fishing is now spent on diesel expenses. Other associated expenses include fishing nets, ropes, ice, trawler maintenance and fishermen’s wages – all of which are on the rise. “On the other hand, we don’t get an appropriate price for the fish in the market,” Maity says.
Between July 2020 and March 2021, 40% of trawlers in the Diamond Harbor, Kakdwip and Sundarban area did not operate.
Several hundred fishermen, members of the fishermen’s association and trawler owners gathered to protest in central Kolkata on February 22, 2021. They demanded from the Center a minimum support price for those involved in the fishing industry. peach.
As part of the BJP campaign, Union Home Secretary Amit Shah visited Kakdwip on February 18. accident insurance up to Rs 3 lakhs. They also pledged to provide interest free loans of up to Rs 25 lakhs for new business start-ups. Another notable promise in the manifesto was a diesel subsidy of up to 5% to all fishermen using mechanized and motorized boats.
Mamata Banerjee’s government has implemented several programs for inland and marine fishing communities. Some of these schemes are the Jal Dharo Jal Bharo scheme, an old age pension of Rs 1000 per month, an accident insurance scheme for active fishermen, as well as conservation and marketing programs for fish feed processing, and an infrastructure for the establishment of wireless communication networks in the marine environment. sector.
Dulal Mondal, whose family owns six trawlers, supervised the work of the fishermen at Kakdwip port when Thread spoke to him. Mondal said: “In the past five months, I have not been able to send four of my trawlers to sea due to the excessive rise in the price of diesel.”
He says there are about 3 lakh from the districts of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas which are involved in fishing with trawlers and motor boats. “Last year’s lockdown completely broke our business. Right after the lockdown, I had to sell a particular type of shrimp for 30 rupees per kilogram, which previously priced around 150 rupees per kilogram. How can we run our business in this way? ” he says.
The 32-year-old is not optimistic their situation will change unless new companies are willing to invest in the Bengal fishing industry. “Modi ji gave us hope that it will bring business to Bengal, which is why many of us are voting for the BJP in the next election. Without new businesses, the fishing industry in Bengal will die, ”he says.
But Samar Das, 54, interrupts Mondal and says, “What new businesses has Modi brought in over the past seven years? All he presented was demonetization and the GST, which killed thousands of small and medium-sized businesses. BJP cannot do business in Bengal; all they can do is bluff people and get their votes.
Das believes that the promises in the BJP manifesto are mostly repeats of government TMC plans, many of which are in effect.
Mondal says that many people in the community have migrated to Kerala and Tamil Nadu because they earn more money there. “If Kerala and Tamil Nadu can offer better opportunities, why can’t Bengal do the same?” he asks.
Even though the BJP courts some communities in its campaigns, South 24 Parganas appears to have remained a stronghold for TMC.
Following the distribution of tickets by BJP, several cases of infighting arose. Many BJP leaders are unhappy and have stopped working for the party since then. Tuesday, March 30, Amit Shah canceled his scheduled rally at the last minute in this area of Diamond Harbor.