Aatmanirbhar package fails to cheer fisher-folk

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on May 18, 2020

Want immediate relief in terms of livelihood and occupational support

The fiscal stimulus in the fisheries sector has failed to bring any cheer to the fisher-folk, as they fear that the absence of an immediate short-term support would push them further into the debt trap.

Though experts in the sector point out that the Kisan Credit Card scheme for fishers would boost liquidity in the sector, Charles George, president of Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi, said that majority of the fishing community in the State have not come under the purview of the scheme owing to the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities.

“The Finance Minister had even turned down our request to allow ₹686 crore from the Emergency Disaster Relief Fund as an aid in view of the disability of the fishing community to venture into the seas due to restrictions,” he said.

Besides facing a loss of around ₹3,500 crore during the lockdown, the fishing sector is facing ‘fish drought’ that has led to a drop in sardine catch. This has proved costly, inflicting a loss of around ₹10,000 crore in the last five years. In these circumstances, the forum has sought a pension ₹5,000 per month to a family to compensate for the losses.

According to the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), the lockdown has seen unprecedented levels of distress and displacements. Since there is no financial assistance, the announcements have not reflected the aspirations and needs of fish workers.

The restrictions have hindered small-scale workers from continuing their work and hence they face short- to mid-term losses. If financial relief in terms of livelihood and occupational support is not implemented, there is a genuine concern of the losses precipitating into a long-term crisis, NFF said.

Catalyse reforms

However, A Gopalakrishnan, Director, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), said the stimulus package is expected to impart significant impetus to catalyse reforms in the sector. The package in the marine sector can be utilised to assist fishers in modernising their fleets, cold-storage capacity, and improve hygiene levels while handling fish on board. Focus may be given to enhance the marine exports by imparting the required on-boarding skills to fishermen, enabling value addition, and further developing the value chains.

Marine fish culture is an emerging avenue that involves significant capital investments. A considerable share of the allocation can be channelled to establish marine fish brood banks, hatcheries, nurseries, and auxiliary facilities that are necessary to develop mariculture, he said, adding that mariculture and coastal aquaculture have the potential to provide gainful employment to a section of the migrants who return.

Market infrastructure

Similarly, the package may be utilised to upgrade the facilities in wholesale markets. Market infrastructure is also a segment that needs stress on technological upgradation that can range from the introduction of digital weighing systems, electronic auction platforms, traceability systems for fish consignments, market data warehouse and intelligence systems, and so on.

But the NFF pointed out that the ₹20,000 crore package announced by the Finance Minister was based on the Expenditure Finance Committee meeting held in January to consider the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, a scheme to bring about Blue Revolution. The EFC had approved the PMMSY at total cost of ₹20,050 crore for a period of five years with effect from 2020-21 to 2024-25.

Published on May 18, 2020

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