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Vol. XXVIII No. 11, September 16-30, 2018

Hurdles to deep sea fishing must be recognised, removed

by A Special Correspondent

(Continued from last fortnight)

Periodic large offers of catch would depress the market and middlemen are bound to exploit the weak holding capacity of the fisherfolk. There should be a government procuring mechanism with appropriate storage facilities that can offer a minimum support price with freedom to the sellers to avail of better deals outside. Assurance of a market at the end of the voyage at a reasonable price is needed for a minimum period of three years till the new mini-entrepreneurs overcome their initial fears and attain proficiency in their operations.

The Project is meant to stop disputes of fishing rights and remove a major irritant in international relations as soon as possible. It must produce the desired outcome within a couple of years. Speed is the name and soul of the strategy. The 2,000 or so fishermen going to the Palk Bay must be weaned away speedily. Cochin shipyard is likely to get 56 vessels ready by October. Generally, the delivery period for vessels is said to be about nine months. If several units are ordered at a time with a supplier, he can standardise the parts and the process to shorten the delivery period. Each fisherman, under the present procedure, should complete the financial obligations and directly order with any of the empanelled builders of his choice. There are currently 17 empanelled suppliers and this number should be doubled. Suppliers like Cochin Shipyard, that have the capacity to take on orders for a large number at a time, must be given priority. The Government must place anticipatory bulk orders for, say, a hundred vessels, immediately which can be transferred to each enrolling fisherman as and when he completes the financial arrangement. This would save a lot of time and shorten project completion.

The capital cost being still too high for the intended beneficiaries, even after netting it for the subsidy, partnerships should be encouraged. Some fishermen say that the cost of nets is 20 lakhs and is not provided for in the capital cost of the vessel. This makes the case for partnership even stronger. It is understood that rules allow a maximum of six to combine. The number of partners should be limited so that the share of each is attractive compared to their previous trawler earnings. The sharing format should be on standardised terms, with the Fisheries Department as the umpire to resolve disputes, if any, arising among partners. In this manner, it is potentially feasible to cover all the 2,000 fishermen at four partners per vessel by procuring 500 vessels within two years.

Deep sea fishing spread over several days is susceptible to risks arising out of vagaries of weather. In the event of loss of life or serious disability of the beneficiary, the successors would become liable to the outstanding dues. The lending institution must cover itself by insuring against such a risk so that the outstanding due gets self-resolved on occurrence of the risk, saving the successor from an unbearable financial burden compounding the tragedy. Another problem relating to insurance is that boat owners tend to neglect the insurance of the vessel and its operators, landing themselves in serious trouble when the risk occurs. The bank should insure the asset and include the cost in the interest rate, not leaving this essential safeguard to the owners who take a simplistic view of insurance as an issue of affordability.

Adequacy of subsistence allowance for quantum and duration is a key element in the entire scheme as it has the potential to wean away fisherfolk from the Palk Bay immediately. In fact, it should be extended only upon the undertaking that they would not fish in that area. The sum should be raised, if necessary, to ensure compliance. The subsistence allowance of Rs. 5,000 per family per month for three months extended by the State seems like a token gesture. It should cover a duration needed to complete all enrolment requirements plus the vessel delivery time which would be about nine months.

The project must recognise the counter forces working against the mission objectives. One possible hindrance to the switch over to deep sea fishing is the negative role of private middlemen owning a sizeable percentage of trawlers who have reduced fishermen-owners to labourers. The depleted financial situation of the “sub-ordinate” fishermen may prevent them from opting for the deep-sea scheme despite its attractive offerings. Additionally, the middlemen lobby could paint the scheme in negative terms to obstruct solutions that affect their interests. To counter this force, the Government’s promotion campaign must be credible and loud enough to drown the negative voices.

Considering the multiplicity of issues involved, the Fisheries Department at the district level must act as a single window facilitation centre to handhold and help the applicants to fulfil requirements speedily and without stress.

It is reported officially that the initial response has been encouraging in that 337 fishermen have already applied for joining the scheme and that the Fisheries Department was issuing work orders for 62 of them.

The Government’s plan is that 500 boats each will be produced during 2017-18 and 2018-19 and the remaining 1,000 in 2019-20. It is too early to assume that enough has been done to make the scheme a success, and that it would run according to this plan. The hurdles must be recognised and removed to sustain that assumption.

(Concluded)

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