The ‘fish’ finds a prominent place, not just in the cycle of evolution, but in the stories of all major ancient civilizations as well. Our Puranas talk about the Matsyavatara, the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The beautiful Sangam literature of ancient Tamil Nadu vividly describes the life of fishermen and the curved boats (Akananuru). Indus Valley excavations lead us to appreciate the prevalence of fishery related activities in ancient India. India with its extensive coastlines and mighty rivers is endowed with rich fishery resources, and the fish and fishermen have, since the beginning, occupied a central place in our culture.
After independence, being largely a State subject, Indian fisheries developed at varying pace and directions depending on the initiative, priorities and resources of the respective States. With little involvement or investment from Centre (Reports indicate total Central Government Releases for fisheries sector as low as Rs 3682 crore since independence till 2014) Indian Fisheries remained hugely neglected. The brave Indian fishermen continued to venture into the oceans, on the rickety boats, with little support in terms of insurance, safety kit, credit facility, post harvest and marketing support. After 67 years of Independence, the sector which was an important source of food, nutrition and livelihood to crores of Indians, was left adrift like a rudderless ship in open seas.
The problems were numerous, and issues inexhaustible. To its credit, the BJP was alive to these concerns, and declared its intention to address them in the 2014 Election Manifesto. In 2014, the people of India, fed up with corruption, policy paralysis of the then government, took a decision and elected a decisive government at the Centre , under the dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi, a leader, who could understand the pain of this sector, and the pulse of the nation.
First and the foremost thing that Modiji did was, he brought the focus of the Centre back to the Fisheries sector. The last eight years have seen rollout of investments worth more than Rs 32000 crores in the form of Blue Revolution Scheme, Fish and Aquaculture Development Fund and Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), apart from many other initiatives.
These steps removed the bottlenecks and unshackled the sector, following the mantra of ‘Reform, Perform and Transform’, which ensured phenomenal growth in India’s fish production, from 102.6 lakh tons in 2014-15 to 147 lakh tons in 2020-21. Out of about 90 lakh tons additional fish produced in 20 years starting from FY2000-2001 to FY 2020-21, 45 lakh tons was added just in last 5-6 years. The fisheries sector grew at an average annual growth rate of 10% in the first five years of Modi Government, as against 5.27% from FY2009-10 to 2013-14.
Fulfilling his 2019 election promises, Prime Minister Modi created a separate Ministry for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, for more focused and holistic development of fishery sector, and in 2020, launched the Pradhan Mantri Matsya SampadaYojana (PMMSY) with the highest ever investment of Indian Fisheries at Rs 20050 crore, as a part of Atmanirbhar Bharat, giving stimulus to ‘Vocal for Local’. The PMMSY is proving to be the main driving force to take Indian fisheries to new heights. The scheme, by 2024-25, envisages to increase the production, productivity and exports of fishery products exponentially. It also envisages to reduce post-harvest losses significantly, and to increase the fish consumption in India.
The reforms and initiatives in last eight years have seen core infrastructure development and modernisation in Indian fisheries, especially by constructing new fishing harbours/landing centres, modernisation and motorisation of traditional fishermen crafts, deep sea going vessels , provision of post-harvest facilities, cold chains, clean and hygienic fish markets, two wheelers with ice boxes and many more. Fishermen are provided with insurance cover, financial assistance and a facility of Kisan Credit Card as well. The Fish Farmer Producer Organisations are encouraging a spirit of cooperation, and increasing the bargaining power of fisher-men community.
Ease of doing business is rigorously being pursued. The Digital India has drastically reduced the processing time for obtaining Sanitary Import Permits (SIPs), from 45 days to just 48 hours. The requirement of SIPs for import of SPF Shrimp Broodstock from approved sources has been done away with, helping hundreds of shrimp hatcheries. The government also reduced import duty on many inputs required for shrimp aquaculture, to promote their exports.
Our fishermen are our pride. Modi government has been continuously working, with the motto of ‘Seva, Sushasan and Gareeb Kalyan’ for the welfare and empowerment of fishermen and women. The sector is being diversified. Now, women from Tamil Nadu are working for seaweed cultivation, while those from Lakshdweep develop Ornamental Fisheries. Our Assamese fisher-men develop river ranching in Brahmaputra, while Andhra entrepreneurs show strong results in aquaculture, getting more crop per drop. Young women entrepreneurs from the Kashmir valley are setting up cold water trout units. Saline lands of Haryana are being productively used for fisheries, converting waste lands into wealth lands.
New Start-ups in aquaculture are attracting talent, technology, finance and entrepreneurial spirit to the fisheries, ushering in a silent social revolution too. A glorious sub-chapter of Indian fisheries, in the form of aquaculture is being scripted currently, catapulting India to leading global position in Shrimp production and exports. India has become 2nd largest aquaculture producer, 3rd largest fish producer, and 4th largest exporter of fish and fisheries products. The fish exports have doubled since 2013 from Rs 30000 crores to Rs 59000 crores in 2021-22, with a whopping rise of 30% this year, despite global Covid-19 pandemic, taking brand India from ‘Local to Global’.
With the bottlenecks removed, technology infused, welfare re-directed to actual beneficiaries, entrepreneurial spirit encouraged and women empowered, Indian Fishery has broken away from the shackles that bound it for the last seventy years. With ‘ Sabka Sath , Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas’, the eight years of Modi government have laid a strong foundation of Indian Fisheries. From here, it can only grow higher, returning with more income and smiles on the face of our fisher brothers and sisters.
(Author is Union Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying, And Information and Broadcasting)