Representational Image. Image Courtesy: India Today
Small, marginalised workers remain the worst affected due to the 21-day lockdown in light of COVID-19. For India’s fishing community, this is a crucial phase as the end of summer means the end of business season. With uncertainty due the pandemic looming large, many are left to fend for themselves as relief from the government comes with its own conditions.
The community is now dealing with red tape to avail financial relief. Assistance by the department of fisheries (DoF) is only for those who have their bank accounts linked to their Aadhaar cards.
In an order issued to the Special Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Secretaries (Fisheries) of States/ UTs on March 30, the DoF suggests that financial assistance can only be availed by those who have bank accounts linked to Aadhaar.
The exclusion of fishing from the essential services list has thrown livelihoods under the bus. According to Gaon Connection, in its letter dated March 24, 2020, the Central department of fisheries requested all state chief secretaries to issue directions “to the law-enforcing authorities to include fish and shrimp in the list of commodities to be exempted from the lockdown and allow for the movement of fish and fish products”. However, shutting down of ice factories and lack of transportation has meant rotting of fish stocks and huge losses to the fishermen.
Speaking to NewsClick, Ravikiran Toraskar of the Shramik Macchimar Kriti Samiti based in Maharashtra said that the small fishermen are the ones bearing the brunt of the lockdown. “This is because of the nature of how workers are in the hierarchy; they are often not included in cooperative societies which that they are not made a part of benefits or any compensation which is spelled out by the government and their numbers remain undocumented,” he said.
Toraskar says that a fishermen census was conducted in 2016, but the report was never published. “For small fishermen, prospects are ruined until the end of the season, which is only August or September. There was a cyclone prior to this and the season is wasted, resulting in huge losses for the community,” he added.
Bringing these demands to the fore, the National Fishworkers Forum has proposed conducting Direct Bank Transfers for those in the marine sector. Since most of the fish-workers and some of the fish vendors have been issued licenses or ID Cards, these can be verified with the respective state in coordination with the trade unions of workers as well as other associations. They have also urged the government to announce an economic package for the fishing community keeping in mind that the sector will be faced with a monsoon ban shortly.
K. Lakshmi of the Traditional fish-workers Trade Union, based in Andhra Pradesh said: “We do not have any food, we can’t venture out. We are protesting against this because for us this means a complete ban for 100 days and our season is ruined. We are asking the government to pay us Rs. 10,000 per month and not use Aadhaar verification for the relief. Also, there were fishermen who had ventured along the coast to other regions and they are stuck there and not able to come back to their homes. Similarly those on bigger boats who have ventured out are also in the sea at the mercy of the boat owners for food and many of them want to return home,” she added.
In addition to losses due to COVID-19, the pandemic will also affect the livelihoods of crores of fish-workers and allied workers who are dependent on the occupation. The forum has demanded a monthly allowance of Rs. 10,000 for up to three months be provided to each fishing household in advance, for all workers across the fisheries value chain.
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