Union Budget 2020-21: Fisheries experts raise concerns over ‘blue economy’

Reduced allocation for fisheries, categorisation of fish farmers and development of ports threatening traditional fisherfolk

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Sunday 02 February 2020

Experts have raised concerns about the ‘blue economy’ statement of Union Minister for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech on February 1, 2020.

One of the 16 action points presented by Sitharaman in Parliament focused on the blue economy.

“Our government proposes to put in place a framework for development, management and conservation of marine fishery resources,” the minister said. This would be done through employment generation in fish processing and marketing in coastal areas.

However, experts said the intention of Sitharaman’s speech was not reflected in the allocations made for the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. 

“The ministry, that was created in May 2019, had an allocation of Rs 560 crore for blue revolution in 2019-20. This was revised to Rs 455.25 and now the budget estimate for 2020-21 is Rs 570 crore, just Rs 10 crore more than what it was in 2019-20,” said T Peter, national secretary of the National Fish Workers' Forum.

He added that although there was a fishery ministry in place now, fish workers’ concerns had not been taken into account.

“We have raised the issue of Goods and Services Tax on nets and fishing equipment many times, but no relief has been provided so far,” he said.

Another bone of contention is the categorisation of ‘fish farmers’, which the finance minister talked about in her speech.

“Our government will involve youth in fishery extension through 3,477 Sagar Mitras and 500 Fish Farmer Producer Organisations. We hope to raise fishery exports to Rs one lakh crore by 2024-25,” Sitharaman said.

But there is a difference between traditional sea-going fisherfolk and fish farmers.

“For quite some time now, there has been this term of fish farmers. The government is creating this new category of fishers as opposed to the sea-going fisherfolk. The government is not paying us, but they are making allocations for them. How is this fair?” Peter asked.

Others said this might lead to unchecked land use in coastal areas.

“When culture fisheries are focussed upon without mentioning them in the budget, there is a possibility of more farmers getting into them by changing their land use pattern,” Anil Tharayath Varghese of Delhi Solidarity Group, said.

“The land for agriculture will be converted to spots for rearing culture fisheries which will have a long-lasting effect on the environment and the land,” he added.

The comments of Sitharaman, when seen in relation with budgetary allocations and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2018, put India’s traditional fisherfolk in a tough spot, according to Varghese.

“If you look at the allocations for the development of minor and major ports, Sagarmala and inland waterways, all have gone up drastically. Moreover, the CRZ notification has reduced the no-development zone on the coasts. All of this would harm the interests of the fisherfolk,” he said. 

According to Peter, more than 10 million traditional fisherfolk in the country were suffering, as the government continued to push money into port projects like Sagarmala in the name of blue economy.

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