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Dhaka Tribune


Traders forced to pay four times the govt fee

  • Traders are not given any document or receipt for the extra amount
  • Causing the government to lose revenue
  • A lack of facilities for drinking water and health services
Update : 31 Mar 2024, 08:30 AM

While the fishermen from the Shutki Palli of Dublar Char island in the Sundarbans are ready to end drying fish for the season on March 31, they are angry as the authorities are allegedly charging Tk18,000 instead of Tk4,000 as set by the government.

They are not given any document or receipt for the extra amount, causing the government to lose revenue.

They also complain of a lack of facilities for drinking water and health services and restrictions on the movement of boats on the Shibsa River.

The Shibsa and Pasur rivers flowing through the Sundarbans merge into the Bay of Bengal as the Kunga River. Dublar Char is located on the eastern bank of the Kunga River.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Sundarbans (East) Forest Division Muhammad Nurul Kabir refuted the claim of charging extra money but said the authorities would take action if any such complaint was filed.

The authorities received Tk6.17 crore as revenue in the 2022-23 fiscal year, against a target of Tk4.5 crore. The production of dried fish was higher due to favourable weather and a large amount of catch. The revenue collection was Tk4.18 crore the previous year.

The DFO stated that the authorities encourage fishermen to use the Pasur River to reach Dublar Char. They did not discuss with the authorities that it would be cost-effective and easy for the fishermen to use the Shibsa River route. “If negotiated, it is possible to approve the new route,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

Dublar Char is a protected area managed by the Sundarbans (East) Forest Department. When the dry season begins, around 1,500 Baharadars (merchants) set up makeshift houses, depots, and shops on the island for five months, starting on November 1. They employ around 15,000 people to collect fish from the Bay of Bengal and dry the fish under the sun. Later, wholesalers from Khulna, Chittagong, and other areas visit Dublar Char to buy the dried fish in bulk amounts.

This year, the Forest Department gave permission to set up 1,500 houses, 63 depots, and hundreds of small grocery shops and eateries.

The areas around Dublar Char are part of the Sundarbans Sanctuary. So, fishermen are not allowed to catch fish anywhere other than the sea.

Sources say fishermen can easily collect fish in the sea, including Dublar Char, as there are no robbers in the Sundarbans. At the beginning of the season, they build houses and make lofts for drying fish using bamboo, betel nut trees, and other materials collected from the locality. They are not allowed to cut down any trees in the Sundarbans. Apart from this, the Forest Department officers patrol every Baharadar’s depot twice daily.

Due to restrictions, fishermen have to go from the locality to Dublar Char through the Sundarbans. The distance from Mongla to Dublar Char through the Pasur River is about 120km. Since the Sundarbans are a protected area, everyone has to get permission from the Forest Department every time they travel. Trawlers cannot use any route outside the designated ones.

Revenue is collected at the rate of Tk10 per kg of fish. Fishermen collect fish from the sea seven days every 15 days and dry them the remaining seven days. Therefore, after 15 days, the revenue is collected by calculating the amount of fish caught by each merchant.

Merchants Subal Bishwas and Jihadul Islam said they could not catch as much fish as they did last year. Hence, after repaying the loans taken from moneylenders and paying wages of the fishermen and other costs, their profit would be much lower.

They said the fishermen face water crises and require medical service during the drying work every year. This year, the administration has provided filters for drinking water. But it is not enough.

“Revenue is increasing every year, and the merchants are charged extra money. But the receipt is given for the fixed amount,” said merchant Bishwajit Biswas.

Shamim Arefin, the executive director of OSED, a non-government organization working to solve the problems of fishermen, stressed that the government should extend more support for housing, water, and sewage in the fishing village of Dublar Char. The government allows fishermen to live there for free. But they have to arrange everything else themselves.

“These fishermen are providing revenue and providing the people with food. But the fishermen's needs are not being met.”

He added that the demand to open the Shibsa route for the fishermen of the Khulna region is not new. “But the Forest Department does not open it due to a manpower crisis and insecurity. Now that the Sundarbans forest is free from robbers, the Forest Department has modern patrol teams, and there are forces like the Coast Guard and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),” he added.

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