Demonetisation cripples fishing industry in Bengal
‘The buyers are tendering Rs. 1,000 notes, which is difficult for us to accept’
North 24 Parganas
By about 4 a.m. all shops – about 170 – were open on both sides of an unkempt asphalt road. The shops that were selling fish at a wholesale rate were chock-a-block by 5 a.m.. But many of them were not engaging with the trading.
They were small rural fish farmers and sellers, big purchasers from Kolkata. They assembled in Malancha, a gigantic wholesale fish market, about 100 kilometres south of Kolkata, in Sunderbans area, to buy or sell fish like any other day. But the market is 40% to 50% “dry”, they said.
“We assembled early morning, out of habit,” said Gorachand Mondal, a small fish farmer from nearby Chaita village.
Malancha is perhaps the largest wholesale fish market in south Bengal, in North 24 Paraganas district, auctioning about 15 thousand kilogram of fish every day. There are at least a dozen such wholesale markets in south Bengal. And, all are distressed over the demonetisation drive.
The owner of one of the biggest wholesale depot in Malancha – Sonali Fish Centre – belongs to Azibor Rahman. Mr Rahman is in the trade for nearly 50 years but has never witnessed such depression.
“We generate business in lakhs but the banks told us to deposit less than Rs. 2.5 lakh. Moreover, the buyers are tendering Rs. 1,000 notes, which is difficult for us to accept. How are banks benefitting if we are not depositing?” Mr Rahman said.
With an withdrawal limit of Rs. 10,000 a day, Mr. Rahman refused to pay change to his son, Amjad Ali Molla, a trainee trader. He literally cried before his dad tendered few Rs. 100 notes.
The situation is grim for small farmers.
“I earn about Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 daily and spend about Rs. 200 to run the household expenses. We deal in Rs. 100 notes and not in Rs. 1000 notes which have disappeared,” Gorachand Mondal said. In his village, the families are incapable of supporting each other.
“All ran out of change…in next two days we will be on road, begging.”
He shared another alarming information.
“Many of the farmers here are illiterate and keep the cash at home. It’s legal money but they are scared to go to bank traditionally. They are now short-changed by the local agents who are charging 20 per cent for providing ‘change’,” said Mr. Mondal.
While Mr. Mondal is at the bottom rung of the trade, Mr. Rahman, a wholesaler, auctions the stock to buyers – traders from cities – charging sellers a tiny fee.
They both have now started gasping for lower denomination notes as the big purchasers, like Abdul Rashid Molla, also a supplier to big cities, are staying off the market.
Instead of entering the Malancha market, 60-year-old Molla is sitting in a tea stall; chewing tobacco and glancing through newspaper.
“They are all like brothers and there is no point in fighting for Rs. 100 notes,” he said. The absence of men like Mr. Molla, who supplies to Kolkata’s retail outlets, is putting a strain on the market. The worst sufferers, however, are small farmers like Gorachand Mondal as they do not have cash savings in small denomination.