Will a Rs 6,000 annual dole lure Bengal’s fisherfolk?

Fisherfolk welcome the suggestion but say that there are plenty of existing schemes that Centre and state must implement

Image Courtesy:telegraphindia.com

Home Minister Amit Shah, who is campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal, has promised an annual payout of Rs 6,000 to the state’s fishermen if his party is voted to power. “After forming the government in Bengal, we will launch a Machhuare Samman Nidhi Yojana from which four lakh fishermen of Bengal will get Rs 6,000 annually just like (farmers do from) the Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana,” Shah told a rally at Kakdwip in South 24-Parganas, reported The Telegraph.

Amit Shah is the biggest star campaigner for his party, next to the Prime Minister, and has now reached out to the large fisherfolk community of the state that is now the main focus for BJP. Shah also had lunch at the home of Subrata Biswas, a fish trader at Narayanpur village in Kakdwip.

National Fishworkers Forum’s former secretary, executive member Dabasis Shyamal, who hails from and works with the community in West Bengal told SabrangIndia, that while he was glad the senior politician had noticed the fisher folk community, it would be good if the existing schemes are implemented as well. “Even if recognised as a vote bank, I congratulate them [Amit Shah and BJP] for noticing the fishworkers and making this announcement,” he said, adding that there still needs to be a classification of the beneficiaries of this proposed scheme as the community is massive. “We at NFF are made up of small scale and traditional fisherfolk. Have they included even large fisherfolk here? Those trawlers are destructive to the environment, it is the small scale traditional fisherman who needs the money. This community has been suffering neglect since the last three decades. And as the catch has reduced, around 60 percent fisherfolk are leaving traditional livelihood and working elsewhere… This is an indication of the dire situation,” he said.

Did the BJP finally, and suddenly notice the fishing community of West Bengal only now? According to Shyamal, the political leadership “knows the situation is getting worse… this promise is an indication…” He said that there were some central savings-cum-relief schemes that are still pending, in West Bengal, and fisherfolk have all been put under the below poverty line (BPL) category, which is actually not helpful. “We request that the saving cum relief scheme be increased from the paltry Rs 1500 currently paid per annum,” he said adding, “We do not want handouts. We want the rights to the waters we fish in, we want  preferential access for small scale fisheries, these water rights can be for inland water bodies, reservoirs, rivers, and marine…”  Implementing the existing policies were crucial as poll promises were just that, promises.

According to The Telegraph Amit Shah’s “promise” of an annual payout of Rs 6,000 for fishermen if the BJP wins in Bengal, has “hurt” the “pride” of a section of fisherfolk who said it is the rising diesel prices that were a bigger challenge. They told The Telegraph that they do not want to depend on government handouts, but instead want the Centre to “contain the rise in diesel prices so that they could venture into the sea on their trawlers”. Diesel, which cost Rs 66.79 a litre in February 2020, now sells for Rs 83.84 a litre in Calcutta now, added the report. Those who own and fish with the trawlers are in distress, Kamal Das from Kultali in South 24-Parganas told the Telegraph that even though he owned two trawlers he had to halt his trade because of the continuous hike in fuel prices, “I faced repeated losses and stopped sending out trawlers since last November because of the high price of diesel. To earn Rs 55,000 by selling fish, I need to burn fuel worth Rs 1.2 lakh. I cannot afford that. I had taken a loan of Rs 36 lakh from the market and around 40 people worked for me. They have either left for Kerala or are sitting idle with no income.” Kamal said adding, “What good will the government do by promising adequate prices for our produce if we can’t catch fish because of the high price of diesel?”

Amit Shah has  promised a ‘Machhuara Samman Nidhi Yojana’ for fishermen, 33 per cent reservation for women in state government jobs, and implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations. According to the Telegraph the Machhuara Samman Nidhi Yojana will be on the lines of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. “Under the scheme, nearly 4 lakh fishermen will get Rs 6,000 annual subsidy. This will be done keeping fishermen produce organisations in the loop,” said Shah adding that a BJP government in the state will set up a dedicated department within the state fisheries department to ensure adequate prices for the catch. He said the ministry will look after fishermen produce and ensure good monetary returns. It will also save them from the TMC middlemen who take away a major portion of fishermen’s profit.”

However, Subrata Biswas, who is also a BJP worker, at Narayanpur village in the district, who hosted Shah for lunch on Thursday, later told the media that his business was not doing well but he could not tell the “big man” about it. According to the report, Joykrishna Haldar, general secretary of the West Bengal United Fishermen Association that represents 64 unions across Bengal, said, “We don’t need a dole. Fishermen work hard and are happy to earn a living. The rising price of diesel has become an impediment and the Centre should subsidise the fuel. Almost 90 per cent of trawlers have stopped venturing into the sea because of the high diesel price. Thousands of fishermen sit at home; they have no income.” According to the news report, fishermen are planning a demonstration in Calcutta on February 22 against the rising fuel prices.


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