After a seven-year hiatus, the hilsa catch from Bangladesh’s Padma will entice city gastronomes this Durga Puja. The Sk Hasina government has lifted the ban it had imposed on export of the Padma hilsa to India in 2012. The relaxation, though, is temporary — just for the Puja, the largest festival in Bengal when demand for good food, including hilsa dishes like ilish paturi, bhapa ilish and shorshe ilish, skyrockets.
Trucks carrying Bangladesh hilsa will begin crossing over to India via the Petropole border from Mahalaya. The curb will again be imposed from October 11, three days after Dashami. Altogether, 500 tonnes of the fish will land here between September 28 and October 10.
The hilsa catch in Bengal has steadily dipped over the years. For quite some time now, demand has far outstripped local supply. Hilsa imported from Bangladesh played a key role in meeting the demand and also in keeping a check on runaway market prices.
This worked till September 5, 2011, when Banerjee refused to accompany then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka and nixed the proposed Teesta water-sharing deal. The next year, Bangladesh banned export of hilsa to India though the official reason behind the curb was low availability of the fish that makes up nearly 11% of the fish production in Bangladesh.
The ban has hit the Bangladesh exporters as well. Around 5,000 tonnes-8,000 tonnes of hilsa used to be imported from the neighbouring country before the ban kicked in. In 2011, Bangladesh had earned 3 billion Taka from hilsa export to India, primarily Bengal. Nearly 75% of the world’s hilsa production occurs in Bangladesh.
“The ban on hilsa export had hit the Kolkata market hard, particularly in the years when local catch was poor. This year has been among the worst. Thus, the price, which should have been around Rs 1,200 per kg (for hilsa of over 1kg), has hovered around Rs 1,600-Rs 1,800 per kg. We have been appealing to the Bangladesh government through the exporters' organisation there to lift the ban. But it hasn’t been successful till this Puja when Bangladesh gave the go-ahead to the latest request from Bangladesh Fish Exporters’ Association secretary Kazi Abdul Mannan as a goodwill gesture to Indian Bengalis during the Puja,” said Fish Importers’ Association secretary Syed Anwar Maqsood.
The association has applied for a sanitary import permit for the consignment and hopes to get it by Friday so that the trucks that line up at Benapole can start rolling in from Saturday. The entire consignment is valued at Rs 28 crore. “Once the fish arrives, we expect a big correction in prices — it should go down to around Rs 1,100-Rs 1,200 per kg,” Anwar added.