Rajasthan Vision Document 2030: No Room for Fishermen in the Dream State?

Despite Rajasthan experiencing above-average growth in fish production, there remains a pressing need for more comprehensive efforts to support the livelihoods of fishermen and promote the fisheries industry. The demand for fish sourced from Rajasthan extends across a significant geographical region, stretching from Agra to Howrah. It is a well-established fact that fisheries serve as the primary source of income for thousands of individuals in the state, with a particular emphasis on economically disadvantaged sections and tribal communities. Furthermore, the active participation of the Muslim community in fish farming and related activities underscores the sector's diverse and inclusive nature.
Rajasthan's Jaisamand Lake is India's second largest artificial lake which covers an area of 87 sq kms when full.
Rajasthan's Jaisamand Lake is India's second largest artificial lake which covers an area of 87 sq kms when full.

Udaipur- The vision document, unveiled by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot during a state-level event in Jaipur, marks a significant milestone in the Rajasthan Mission-2030 initiative, aimed at catapulting Rajasthan to a leading position in the country. This event witnessed the participation of thousands of enthusiastic individuals eager to witness the unveiling of Rajasthan's ambitious dreams.

This visionary document was the culmination of an extensive collaborative effort, with over 3 crore suggestions pouring in from the people. These suggestions spanned a wide spectrum of domains, encompassing social, economic, and industrial progress. Contributions were made across various sectors such as agriculture, animal husbandry, dairy, education, health, and more. These suggestions served as the bedrock upon which this comprehensive vision document was crafted.

Dr. LL Sharma and Dr. Subodh Sharma, former Deans of the Fisheries College at Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology (MPUAT) in Udaipur, made valuable contributions to the vision document. Their insights focused on elevating the livelihoods of numerous fishermen who rely on fish farming for their income, emphasizing fisheries production and processing as key areas of development.

However, it is worth mentioning that experts have expressed concerns regarding the absence of a concrete action plan specifically tailored for the fisheries sector within the vision document.

Remarkably, Rajasthan's fish products find their way to markets spanning from Delhi and Agra to Assam, Punjab, and even Kolkata. The fish, particularly those from the pristine Jaisamand Lake in Southern Rajasthan, are highly sought after in other states, further highlighting the economic potential of the fisheries sector in the region.

Fisheries Sector: Livelihood Source for Thousands of Individuals

A report released by the Forest Department in 2009 sheds light on the significant role of fish farming and fishing-related work in providing livelihoods to around 16,000 people in the state. It categorizes these individuals into six classes, each with its own unique contribution to this vital sector:

  1. Residents of Jaisamand Lake, Mahi, and Kadana Backwaters Area: This class comprises the local inhabitants of these regions who have traditionally been engaged in fish farming and related activities. Their intimate knowledge of the local ecosystems is invaluable to the industry.

  2. Bhoi from Madhya Pradesh and the Mallah Community of Uttar Pradesh: These communities, often recognized as traditional fishermen, have migrated to Rajasthan, particularly in Bharatpur, and play a vital role in the state's fisheries sector.

  3. Fishery Contractors: This category encompasses individuals or entities involved in the commercial aspect of selling fish. They serve as intermediaries between producers and consumers, facilitating the distribution of fish products.

  4. Independent Fish Farming Communities: Some individuals within the state have taken up fish farming independently. They may have acquired the necessary knowledge through institutional training or self-learning, contributing to the diversification of the sector.

  5. Traditional Fish Farmers from UP, Bihar, and Odisha: Fishery contractors often hire workers from these states to assist in fish farming operations in Rajasthan. This collaborative effort expands the workforce and enhances production.

  6. Fisheries-Related Activities, Marketing, Transport, and Supply: This class includes individuals involved in various aspects of the fisheries supply chain, such as marketing, transportation, and supply. Their livelihoods are closely tied to the success of the fish farming industry.

The report also presents a noteworthy estimate, suggesting that achieving a target fish production of 88,277 tonnes could potentially provide livelihoods for approximately 65,957 people.

Pic for representational purpose only-Fisheries Dept-GOI
Pic for representational purpose only-Fisheries Dept-GOIPicasa

The State's Aquatic Wealth

Rajasthan boasts abundant aquatic resources, including a diverse range of water bodies such as small and large reservoirs, irrigation dams, and rural ponds, which collectively amount to 15,838. Furthermore, the state provides approximately 4,23,765 hectares of fish farming space at full tank level (FTL) of the reservoirs. Additionally, an area of 1,80,000 hectares, previously affected by salt, is also available for fisheries-related activities.

Over the last three decades, Rajasthan has witnessed a consistent expansion in its inland fisheries sector. Both the area dedicated to fish farming and fish production have seen substantial growth. The state achieved an impressive milestone by reaching a record-breaking fish production figure of 90,000 metric tonnes in the past fiscal year, resulting in revenue generation exceeding Rs 75 crore.

The fisheries sector in India has demonstrated remarkable growth, with an 8% increase in fish production over the last few years. In Rajasthan, from 14,000 metric tonnes in 1980-81, the production surged to 28,200 metric tonnes in 2010-11. During the period from 2000-01 to 2010-11, the sector experienced an annual growth rate of 12.6%, surpassing the national average of 8%. Reservoirs contribute significantly to the nation's fish production, accounting for approximately 60% of the total, while the remaining output comes from tanks and ponds. Notably, the productivity of large reservoirs in Rajasthan stands at 55 kg per hectare, which is higher than the national average. However, the productivity of smaller water bodies in the state is 1.2 tonnes per hectare per year, lower than the national average.In terms of fish production, Rajasthan ranks 18th among Indian states.

Experts feel the need to declare an endemic fish species, such as Labeo Rajasthanicus, or any other prevalent fish species as the state fish of Rajasthan.
Experts feel the need to declare an endemic fish species, such as Labeo Rajasthanicus, or any other prevalent fish species as the state fish of Rajasthan.

Declaring a State Fish of Rajasthan

Dr. LL Sharma, in an interview with The Mooknayak, highlighted the rich biodiversity of Rajasthan's water bodies, housing around 150 distinct fish species including Rohu, Katla, Mrigal, Lanchi, Singhada, Tilapiya etc. He noted the incursion of foreign fish species into the state's aquatic ecosystems. Simultaneously, the mounting pressures on lakes and reservoirs due to escalating pollution and other human-induced factors underscore the urgency of addressing these challenges to ensure the sustainability of fisheries. It is widely recognized that fish farming serves as the primary livelihood source for numerous individuals in the state, notably benefiting economically disadvantaged sections and tribal communities. Therefore, he asserted, there is a compelling need to prioritize conservation efforts and the responsible management of aquatic resources to safeguard both the environment and the livelihoods dependent on it.

Rajasthan's Jaisamand Lake is India's second largest artificial lake which covers an area of 87 sq kms when full.
Tribal Fishermen Face Loss of Livelihood and Fish Populations Due to Tilapia Invasion in Jaisamand Lake

He said there is a need felt to declare an endemic fish species, such as Labeo Rajasthanicus, or any other prevalent fish species as the state fish of Rajasthan. This would help promoting fish farming in the state, following the example of other regions. 21 States have declared species as their state fishes. Rajasthan has already designated various symbols representing its rich cultural and natural heritage, including the camel as the state animal, Chinkara as the state animal, Godavan as the state bird, Khejri as the state tree, and Rohida as the state flower. Seeking suggestions from the Rajasthan Fisheries Department on this matter would help ensure a well-informed and thoughtful decision, Prof Sharma said.

Conservation Challenges

While Rajasthan's fisheries sector has grown, it faces a series of challenges that threaten its sustainability:

  1. Pollution and Anthropogenic Factors: Lakes and reservoirs in Rajasthan are under increasing stress due to pollution and other human activities, demanding immediate attention to protect these aquatic ecosystems.

  2. Economic Vulnerability: Fish farming serves as the primary livelihood for many people in Rajasthan, particularly those from economically disadvantaged and tribal communities. Ensuring the sector's sustainability is crucial for their well-being.

Experts recommendations to address various critical aspects of the fisheries sector in Rajasthan

According to experts from the Fisheries college and the state fisheries department, Rajasthan's fisheries sector may not receive as much attention as some of its natural wonders, but it plays a vital role in the livelihoods of many residents. Implementing few conservation and development solutions can help sustain this growing industry while preserving the state's aquatic resources for future generations.

  1. Implementation of RMOL Report: The recommendations from the Rajasthan Livelihood Mission's 2010 report on fisheries development should be fully implemented to enhance scientific fisheries and aquaculture management.

  2. Center of Excellence: Establishing a Center of Excellence on Limnology and Fisheries, similar to the one at the College of Fisheries in MPUAT, Udaipur, can help monitor fish and limnological factors in lakes and reservoirs.

  3. Fish Database: Create and publish a comprehensive database on fish, fisheries, and aquatic productivity in Rajasthan to raise awareness of the state's fish resources.

  4. Stock Enhancement: Develop strategies for reservoir stocking based on natural food resources, such as plankton, benthos, and periphyton, to maximize aquatic production potential.

  5. Value Addition: Invest in infrastructure and training facilities for value addition methods like fish canning and processing to increase profits for fish farmers.

  6. Fish Feed Mills: Establish private-sector fish feed mills to support the growing fish farming and shrimp farming industries in the state.

  7. Fish Seed Supply: Establish private-sector fish hatcheries in every district to ensure timely and quality fish seed availability within the state.

  8. Innovative Aquaculture: Promote innovative aquaculture technologies like RAS, biofloc, integrated fish farming, and pearling inland fisheries to create additional employment opportunities.

  9. PMMSY: Strengthen supporting sectors under the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) to enhance the fisheries industry in the state.

Jaisamand fish hatchery and fish farm is under control of Rajasthan Tribal Area Development Cooperatives Federation.
Jaisamand fish hatchery and fish farm is under control of Rajasthan Tribal Area Development Cooperatives Federation.Image Source- Prof L.L.Sharma

Strengthening the State Fisheries Department:

In 1982, the State Fisheries Department boasted a workforce of 1350 employees. However, this number dwindled significantly to just 536 by the 2009-10 period, as outlined in the RMOL report. Presently, the department shoulders its responsibilities with a mere 350 employees. This staffing shortage poses a considerable challenge to the scientific and effective management of the state's fishery resources, as well as the successful adoption of modern fisheries technologies, similar to what other states have accomplished.

To address this pressing issue and meet the demands of all 50 districts in Rajasthan, a strategic workforce revival is imperative. Each division should be equipped with at least one Assistant Director, and every district should be staffed with a Fisheries Development Officer (FDO) along with two Assistant Fisheries Development Officers (AFDOs). Additionally, at the tehsil level, two fisheries inspectors and four fishermen should be deployed. This comprehensive staffing plan will not only enable better resource management but also facilitate the efficient implementation of new fisheries technologies, ultimately propelling the state's fisheries sector forward.

Fisheries College, MPUAT, Udaipur
Fisheries College, MPUAT, Udaipur

Fisheries Education- Employment Challenges for Graduates

In a recent discussion on the state of fisheries education and employment prospects in Rajasthan, Prof Subodh Sharma, an expert in the field, drew attention to a pressing concern. He emphasized the difficulties faced by graduates in fisheries education, particularly the limited employment opportunities available to them.

The establishment of the Fisheries College by the State Government in 2010 marked a significant milestone in Rajasthan's pursuit of excellence in fisheries education. The college has been offering a range of courses, including BFSc, MFSc, and PhD programs, all of which have received the approval of competent bodies, such as MPUAT and ICAR. These courses have been deemed professional and hold a stature similar to those in the fields of medicine and engineering. However, despite more than a decade of its existence, the college continues to grapple with a critical issue - the shortage of faculty positions sanctioned by the State Government, a challenge that is severely affecting the quality of teaching and research programs.

Appointment of new faculty members- The students of the Fisheries College predominantly hail from economically weaker sections, yet they have displayed remarkable academic prowess on a national level. Their achievements extend beyond the confines of the classroom, as they find employment not only within Rajasthan's Fisheries Department but also in other states' fisheries departments, state agricultural universities, and various private sector organizations. However, the college now faces the impending retirement of its current faculty members. To maintain the institution's vitality and meet the pressing training and research needs of tribal-dominated areas, the prompt appointment of new faculty members in the College of Fisheries, MPUAT, Udaipur, is of paramount importance.

Qualification of FDOs, AFDOs, and Fisheries Inspectors: Bridging the Gap

When the College of Fisheries was inaugurated in 2010, the then Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, announced its establishment in the Rajasthan Assembly, recognizing the shortage of trained and qualified technical human resources in the field of agriculture, especially in fisheries. This visionary move was initiated with an allocation of Rs 4 crore. Since then, several batches of students have graduated from the college, equipped with BFSc and MFSc degrees, which are rightfully considered professional courses, bridging the gap between traditional BSc and BFSc degrees.

However, a grave disparity exists in the criteria for job selection within the Fisheries Department of Rajasthan compared to many other states in India. While these other states prioritize BFSc and MFSc degrees for posts such as Fisheries Development Officers (FDOs), Assistant Fisheries Development Officers (AFDOs), and Fisheries Inspectors, Rajasthan has maintained parity between BFSc/MFSc graduates and those with qualifications in Pure Science (BSc) or MSc Zoology, Fish, and Fisheries. This policy has inadvertently disadvantaged BFSc and MFSc graduates who possess specialized knowledge and skills tailored for fisheries jobs.

Fisheries Science as a Holistic Discipline: Rectifying the Imbalance

To rectify this imbalance and ensure that the most qualified individuals are appointed to fisheries positions, it is imperative to re-evaluate the qualifications required for FDOs, AFDOs, and Fisheries Inspectors in Rajasthan. If it is argued that both BFSc/MFSc and Pure Science/MSc Zoology qualifications are equivalent, then BFSc and MFSc graduates should also be considered eligible for school teaching positions in science, as their education encompasses various facets of aquatic biology, aquatic plants, animals, and environmental sciences.

To address this discrepancy, an alternative approach could be to modify the prescribed qualifications for FDOs, AFDOs, and Fisheries Inspectors. A provision, akin to the one already existing in the State Fisheries Department of Tamil Nadu, could be introduced, stating, "If BFSc and MFSc candidates are unavailable, BSc and MSc Zoology candidates may be considered." Such a revision would not only be equitable but also ensure that the most qualified individuals are entrusted with the responsibility of managing and conserving Rajasthan's valuable aquatic resources.

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