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Four lakh fish die overnight in Uttar Pradesh's Mudari village; hapless villagers suspect poisoning

On the morning of 27 March, residents of the village of Mudari in Mahoba woke up to their worst nightmare – a veritable sea of dead fish floating in their village pond. Littering the surface of the pond, the fish had been painstakingly farmed by the colony of fishermen in Mudari, who rely solely on fish farming for their subsistence.

“There is no life left in the lake, you can’t even hear the noise of the fish anymore,” said Shivdin, the pond committee’s chairman, echoing a sentiment shared by many in the Mudari village, where the soundscape of life includes the sound of gently floating fish, “We had cast a net yesterday, but we caught nothing. There are no signs that there are fish in this lake now, I think they are all dead.” As the head of the local committee, he kept track of all the fishermen involved in fish farming, as well as the quantum of fish seed they were putting into the pond. According to his estimates, 6.5 lakh fish seeds had been released into the lake, “More than four lakh of those must have survived and have been living in the lake ever since.”

Four lakh fish dying overnight is unarguably a suspect occurrence anywhere, and in Mudari, there was a suggestion of malicious intervention. “This cannot be natural causes,” said Shivdin, “Someone killed the fish by pouring in poison of some sort. It must have been diluted, because otherwise, animals who rely on this lake for water would have also died.” Kheliya, another fisherman and village elder, agreed. “You can also see the condition they're in,” he said, pointing to the lake, “This has nothing to do with the food. We've been feeding them the same thing ever since I've been a boy.” He speculated, “It's definitely some strange medicine, a chemical, which was poured into the lake.”

Bharat Singh, a fisherman, also believed it was poisoning. He had a growing list of concerns, “We need to ask if our business is viable in this lake, whether it is a danger to other animals, to our children, if the fish themselves are now too poisonous to eat. The stink in the lake is unbearable, and it’s becoming difficult to cross it with our boats.” He concluded, “Whoever put the poison in the water must have done it out of jealousy or contempt for us.”

Fish production is a growing business, one that has consistently received the Centre’s support; most recently, this support manifested in the form of the Rs 3000 crore Blue Revolution program piloted by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries. Even before the Blue Revolution was instated, the development has been leasing out ponds, lakes and reservoirs, especially in rural India, to encourage fish farming – which includes growing fish seed and caring for them until they mature, and then catching them. Known as aquaculture or freshwater fish farming, it is often an alternative income source for fishermen. In Uttar Pradesh, all 375 ponds under the purview of the state fisheries department are currently being leased. “Our committee is named in the contract which is valid for ten years,” said Shivdin, “We pay an annual fee of Rs 2500 as determined by the gram sabha.”

Like in most of the state, aquaculture often makes up for a major part of the income of local communities. According to Shivdin, they had only just released the fish seed. “We have sold nothing,” he said about the possibility of recovering losses from caught fish sales. To make matters worse, he explained, “They are all dead, and this is no season for breeding. We will find no fish seed right now. It will now just stay empty.” What should have been a profitable, sustainable model of business has left 15 families, by Shivdin’s estimates, without a source of income and without a contingency plan. “Our seed should be valued by the government. Why else would we have taken responsibility for this lake?” Shivdin said, frustrated. But after a moment of looking at the lake again, the stench of death inescapably in the air, he said quietly, “How will I provide for my family now with this lake?”

Poisoning is one of the most common problems faced by fish farmers in rural Uttar Pradesh. The villagers, all suspecting foul play, reached out to the Kulpahad Tehsildar SM Sharma to conduct an investigation into the matter. Our reporter spoke with Kulpahad’s Kutval Bijender Singh who promised that now that the matter had been brought to their attention, swift action would be taken. Depending on their findings, he said, further action will be taken.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 19:27:42 IST

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