From over Rs 1600 per kg, the most delicious delicacy of the Bengalis is expected to come down a few notches late this week in the markets of West Bengal. Yes, it is all about hilsa, the silvery crop of the water.
A hopping 2,080 metric tonnes of hilsa is on its way to Bengal as a puja gift from Bangladesh. The increased supply will bring down the price too in Bengal.
There was some trouble over the hilsa as New Delhi cut down the export of vaccines to the neighbouring country during the second wave of Covid-19 raging in India. It created a crisis of the second dose in Bangladesh, and to tide, over it the Sheikh Hasina government imported vaccines from China. Perhaps the grudge resulted in a continued ban on hilsa export to India.
But about two weeks ago, during his trip to India, Bangladesh Information Minister Muhammad Hasan Mahmud gave a clear indication of resuming earlier bonhomie with India. And on last Friday the ban on the export of hilsa was temporarily lifted by Bangladesh. The neighbour’s commerce ministry in a notification made it clear that this relaxation is being given keeping in mind the puja season.
The first consignment of hilsa is expected to reach the Petrapol border by today. It is expected to hit the markets by tomorrow or the day after. The supply will continue till the 10th of October, the first day of Durgapuja. It will be stopped thereafter as a ban on catching hilsa will come into effect in Bangladesh from Oct 12.
Sheik Hasina is using hilsa as a diplomatic weapon for years. She banned its export in 2012 when Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal, decided against giving a concession to the neighbouring country on water distribution from Teesta. Before that, every year 5,000 to 7,000 tonnes of hilsa used to come from Bangladesh to India. Last year, it was only 500 tonnes. In fact this time the consignment will be the biggest since 2012.
The production of Hilsa has fallen by 66 per cent over last three years in Bengal. In Bengal coast, according to the fisheries department, 30-35 tonnes of Hilsa were netted every day during the Hilsa season till 2017, but now it has reduced to 10 tonnes per day. In the last 10 years, the catch has gone down by 66 per cent in Bengal.
But it is a different story altogether for Bangladesh, where the production is increasing continuously over the last 10 years. Statistically, it has increased by 78 per cent in Bangladesh over this period. In more concrete terms, 10 years ago in Bangladesh, the quantum of the catch was 115 tonnes per day. Now it is over 150 tonnes. Consequently, hilsa is much cheaper in that country.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)