Restrictions on fish markets in Maharashtra, owing to the relentless spread of the COVID 19 cases, has spelt doom for the fishing communities as their livelihoods are affected.
The rapid spread of coronavirus has brought about these restrictions and it is having an adverse impact on the fish business.
The loud, jostling, rambunctious fish markets across Maharashtra are slowly falling silent as the crowds thin out. Where once, at 8 am, traders and fishers would do brisk business, shouting, bargaining, coaxing and arguing over the price, now there is mostly a pall of sullen gloom. The COVID 19 pandemic has forced restrictions on these markets and the fishing business is gasping for breath.
“Fishing and selling has to happen on the same day. It’s not like you could catch fish today and sell them tomorrow or the day after. They will get stale,” Prafull Bhoir, a representative of Machhuara Sangharsh Samiti, a Mumbai-based organisation that works to safeguard the interests of the fishing community, told Gaon Connection.
He was referring to the fact that now the wholesale fish markets cannot remain open beyond 11 am and hardly any buying or selling of fish takes place.
“Before these restrictions were introduced, traders showed up at the wholesale markets, bought fish from the fishing communities, and in an hour or two the fish would reach other wholesale markets in Thane, Panvel, Dombivli, Kalyan and Palghar,” continued Bhoir.
From there, the local markets would procure the fish and sell to their customers. “If markets have to shut down at eleven in the morning, where is the time for people to buy fish,” he asked.
The rapid spread of coronavirus has brought about these restrictions and it is having an adverse impact on the fish business. Since April 14, Maharashtra is under a lockdown with restrictions on crowded markets. The lockdown will continue till May 31.
Because of the nature of the fish markets where there is congestion, crowding, physical proximity and no physical distancing whatsoever, the authorities have had to take measures to limit access to the markets in order to curb the spreading contagion. So, there is little scope for these markets to function freely.
Even away from these market hubs, fishermen sit idly along the coastal districts of Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, waiting for the normalcy to return.
“Incomes have plummeted, people are not coming out and they are eating frugally,” Mahesh Pardeshi, a 46-year-old fish seller, pointed out to Gaon Connection.
“Even if we take the risk of coming to the markets, the sale is too low. Why should we put our lives at risk for such small earnings? It’s better to stay home,” said Shreevardhan Koli, a 32-year-old fish trader from Ratnagiri district.
Operational costs have gone up too. According to fish traders in Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur the transportation cost of getting fish from the coastal districts is higher these days because of reduced demand and supply.
“No matter whether it’s a city or towns, all eateries are functioning minimally across the state. Unless they get back to normal, the fish business is expected to be suspended,” Ganesh Koli, a fish trader from Sangli told Gaon Connection.
And, as it has been with the work force in other professions, here too, it is the women fishers who have suffered dearly in the pandemic. Maharashtra’s women fish sellers, who dot the state’s coastal landscape carrying loads of fish on their heads, are now struggling to survive.
“We sell fish from nine to ten in the mornings. Just as the business starts picking up, the police ask us to wind up. I plead with the sarkaar to allow us to sell fishes till two in the afternoon at least,” Reshma Koli, a 35-year-old fish seller from Ratnagiri told Gaon Connection. She said many of the women had mortgaged their jewellery in order to tide over the corona crisis.
“These women used to earn upto fifteen hundred rupees a day before the restrictions came in. Now they aren’t able to earn a single paisa. Many of them have mortgaged their jewellery to feed their families,” Kiran Koli, a Mumbai-based leader from the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, told Gaon Connection.
While announcing curfew-like restrictions in the state last month, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had announced a relief package worth Rs 5,476 crore as compensation for the loss of livelihoods.
“In these testing times, the government should at least declare a minimum compensation of Rs 25,000 for the members of the fishing community who have suffered losses,” Kiran Koli said.