Nandkumar M Kamat
Goa is only state in India which has two departments managing fisheries sector in gross violation of Supreme Court 1996 directives in S Jagannathan case. The dedicated fisheries department of Goa focused on marine fisheries has unilaterally decided that it has no mandate to interfere with revenue department which controls fishing rights in khazan and estuarine lands.
The revenue department superficially supervises the annual auctions of fishing rights, a highly corrupt and stage managed annual business of Rs 5 to 10 crore, for leasing out about 600 sluice gates. It controls the 140 tenants associations which it has successfully converted into “de facto’ village pisciculture associations since 1980.
Mamlatdars in eight talukas with 18,000 hectares khazan lands and 600 estuarine sluice gates have been working hard since 1977 to ensure promotion of illegal pisciculture in total violation of 1996 Supreme Court directives. There was only a single anomaly in this well oiled corrupt system when the newly appointed Mamlatadar of Salcette, then a junior officer in Goa Civil Service, Prasad Lolienkar wrote the first official techno-legal note sent to ex CM Parrikar challenging the existence of the pisciculture business in khazan lands. There are still unanswered questions about non regulation of “tolle committees” in Salcete which auction the fishing rights from lakes and distribute the income. The loss to the government would be in crores. Lolienkar’s note was shelved and he was shunted out in the guise of promotion. The taluka mamlatadars who have no knowledge of fisheries sector are not duty bound to fix the norms for fishing near sluice gates or creeks or monitor and report the landed catch from sluice gates or creeks to fisheries department. With such discouraging background the fish consumers of Goa have become permanent victims in cages of politicians who pamper the fisheries sector.
More than one million helpless fish consumers of Goa are silently and desperately watching the ongoing agitation of a section of fishermen. Even if there is a glut in market any economist can see the level of consumers’ exploitation. Well connected Goa has all routes open for import of fish so it doesn’t matter if there is fish famine anywhere. Under pressure from politically well connected fishermen, since 1980, Government has prohibited routine as well as surprise quality checks on marketed fish and shellfish including dry and salted fish. The health department and municipal administrations have been discretely told not to interfere in fish markets to check quality of marine produce.
The Fisheries department has been directed to ignore compliance of Marine fisheries regulation act and rules, 1981 which make it mandatory to use nets with mesh size of 24 mm for fish and 20 mm for prawns. So juvenile fish including, tiny baby sharks can be found in markets. The fisheries department has been asked to completely ignore incidents of “blast fisheries” or use of explosives to kill fish in rivers of Goa in violation of Indian fisheries act, 1897. The forest department has been directed to ignore sale of banned species of rare and endangered sharks as per MOEF list or turtles or tortoises sold in bunches during monsoon.
The Portuguese authorities never allowed sale of poor quality fish. Fish consumers can not launch an agitation because they are not united to press for their nutritional rights. But in the coming election they can defeat those politicians who don’t have concrete plans to supply quality fish at affordable prices. It is amusing to see that no political party has courage to give the slogan- Fish For All as they know the political nuisance value of stakeholders from fisheries sector. Many agents and middlemen involved in import of fish are also moneylenders of big politicians in the state. None of these agitators have anything to assure for nutritional security and welfare of fish consumers of Goa who pay astronomical prices in an open, unregulated market.
Fish consumers of Goa need economic and nutritional justice. It is crime to deny children of Goa suffering from malnutrition their traditional fish curry and rice. If Government applies the same yardstick to supply of subsidized vegetables and milk then the Goa state horticulture corporation and Goa Dairy would have to be shut down. Fish consumers have been left to suffer silently because even NGOs championing consumer rights are scared to support them on these three issues- the first one is every local fish consumers’ nutritional right to get fish at subsidized rate since state government is heavily subsidizing the fisheries sector to the tune of Rs 25 to 30 per every kilogram of fish caught and marketed. Second- quality assurance because most of the fish sold in Goa is unfit for human consumption. NIO scientists are tightlipped on this issue for obvious reasons because it would create a scare among fish consumers. Best quality fresh fish is lifted by hotels and affluent section and common fish consumers are forced to purchase low quality fish including two to three weeks old frozen catch dumped in Goa by interstate fish cartels. It is suspected that fish imported in Goa are preserved using Formalin.
Third- Formation of Goa fisheries corporation on the lines of Horticulture Corporation for active market intervention and to set up fresh fish sales counter in all towns and major villages. The corporation could offer a minimum support price to suppliers thus ending the rule of middlemen. This needs political will to overcome pressure tactics from well entrenched agents from private fish marketing sector. Government can also heavily subsidize startups in e-commerce in fresh fish supply. Consumers in urban areas are willing to pay well for ‘door delivery’ of quality fish of their choice.
The fisheries sector in Goa has lost public sympathy because it has nothing to offer to common fish consumers who are finding it difficult to purchase quality fish at affordable price to get minimum fish proteins in daily traditional diet. Former chief secretary of Goa, Dr J C Almeida has reviewed the position of fisheries sector before and after liberation in his book- Goa-administration and economy before and after 1962. Chapters 12 and 30 refer to fisheries sector. Combined with shocking reports from NIO these assessments offer no hope for common fish consumers. (To Be Concluded).