Sugandha Sadashiv Mhatre is a fish-seller and is always found selling her wares in the same corner of Dombivali's main market. The market is right in front of the city's police station. As more than five persons are not allowed to gather, the market has been shut since March 23, the day the lockdown began in Maharashtra.
According to the government's rules, Sugandha is allowed to sell fish. How? Where would she sell it?
So, Sugandha does not go to the fish market anymore, and is bearing losses between Rs 1000 and Rs 1500 on a daily basis. This will go on for longer, even if one assumes that people would come to buy fish on the day that the lockdown is revoked. Will Sugandha then be applicable for government compensation given her losses due to the lockdown? No. Because the government has not banned fish selling.
This is the story of every fish-seller and the fisherman of Maharashtra. The government has given one permission to fish and sell but has not allowed people to gather. So, there is no business at all.
"Who will go out and start selling fish? Haven't you seen police toppling the vegetable carts on the roads? If they did this with our fish basket, will anyone but that fish? It is better to sit home and bear the loss," said Sugandha.
Rules and policies that are in constant conflict are a feature of the lockdown and similar regulations are hurting the fishery business in India.
As per the circular issued by Central Government on March 24, fishing is allowed. However, more than five people cannot gather at one place. A fishing trawler always has more than ten people and if they are caught, who will pay their legal fees? So, bigger trawlers have stopped going to sea altogether.
Export of fishery products is also down and no one outside India is taking fishery goods Fishermen from Mumbai and Palghar district catch around one thousand ton of fish. There is no facility to preserve all of it on a daily basis. Given the cost of diesel used in the trawlers and payments for the workers, the owners of the trawlers have decided against them venturing out during lockdown.
Damodar Tandel is the leader of Mumbai's fishermen community. He has been following up with the state and the centre’s fishery departments. "We are requesting them to take a clear and proper decision. If this continues, we will neither get business nor compensation," he said.
Tandel gave another example of the government's chaotic handling. People who are below poverty line (BPL) are supposed to get rice for Rs 2, and Tandel demanded a similar scheme for poor fishermen. He wrote a letter to the centre’s fishery department. It accepted the demand and said that the fishermen had to submit their Aadhar cards and ration cards with the letter from their community to the fishery department within two days. "How it is possible to do all this in just two days? The government is not allowing us outside our homes. Offices have minimum presence. In such a situation, the government asked us to submit the documents within two days. It should have given us more time," he said.
Small fishermen from Maharashtra's coastal regions are also facing losses. Their two to three cylinders boats are allowed to go into the sea but local markets are shut. So, they are stranded on land.
"I have a loan and heard that the EMIs could be postponed but that there would be interest on stalled EMIs. If there is no business for two months, then how does a small fisherman pay his EMIs? Shouldn’t the government restructure the loans?," asked Dashrath Bhagat from Raigad's Alibaug. He has one boat and there are three people who work on it. It means three families are in loss and not getting any relief from either the state or the central government.
With India under lockdown, different sectors now face financial crises. But, the central government has not come up with a plan to make sure that the slowdown does not hit them hard.