KENDRAPARA: Amidst rising fuel prices, the chorus for subsidised diesel is growing louder among marine fishermen who are already reeling under many hardships, unpredictable weather being one of them.
The fishermen are demanding a waiver of VAT on diesel as it is no longer affordable to use mechanised boats in such a situation. Santosh Haldar (45), a marine fisherman of seaside Ramanagar village, said on each trip to the sea, he spends about 60 litre diesel. “Many fishermen cannot afford to venture into the sea anymore. While the cost of fuel is on the rise, fish prices remain the same,” he said.
Sources said most fishing boats work collectively in groups of five to seven. The common practice is going to the sea in a group but only one boat returning to the shore with the haul to save fuel. Now, most fishermen are finding it difficult to cover expenses due to the high fuel price.
President of Odisha Marine Fish Producers Association (OMFRA) Sumanta Biswal said the fuel price hike has pushed the State’s fishing industry into a major crisis. This onslaught on fishermen comes at a time when they are already suffering from the steep price rise of essential commodities and the Covid-19 impact.
“As the fuel price is escalating, the cost of logistics service including ice and fishing equipment is also increasing. As a result, fishermen have to pay much more for every fishing voyage than before,” he said.
States like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are providing subsidies on diesel to fishermen. But Odisha government is yet to do the same, Biswal said.
“We have placed the demand before the State government several times in the past but to no avail. At least six lakh families eke out a living from fishing in the State through 1,500 trawlers and 5,000 motorised boats. We are planning to resort to an indefinite strike against fuel price hike and pressurise the government to provide subsidised diesel including exemption of VAT to fishermen,” he added.
Trawler owner Ratikanta Das of Kendrapara said with diesel price reaching Rs 99 per litre, the fishing costs have gone up significantly. Especially, the high capacity offshore fishing boats are facing more difficulties because every voyage usually lasts four to five days. Owners of bigger boats are fearing huge losses due to the fuel price hike, he added.
Contacted, Joint Director of Fisheries (Coastal) Pabitra Behera said, “We have already written to the government to provide subsidised diesel to fishermen. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the government is facing financial crisis that has led to the delay in providing the benefit to them. After the pandemic ends, their demands will be considered.”