Each fisherman in possession of sat phone had no alternative other than remitting a hefty recharge amount of Rs 15,441 to continue using it, Bibin Paul Miranda, secretary, Thoothoor St Thomas Boat Owner and Workers Welfare Union, said.
After Cyclone Ockhi, which devastated Kanniyakumari in November 2017, fishermen, especially those going on deep sea fishing, realised the necessity and importance of satellite phones and the situation also prompted the Centre and state governments to provide such technologically advanced telecommunication devices. In 2018, over a hundred mechanised boats in Kanniyakumari district were provided with the sat phones free of cost and in 2019, the communication gadgets were provided at a subsidised cost to another 200 boats. A monthly recharge fee of Rs 1,181 was collected.
Since fishing was not thriving like in the past owing to cyclones and rough weather, fishermen were forced to stay off the sea most of the months last year and similar situation prevails this year too. As a result, both fishermen and boat owners, who lost their livelihoods, could not afford to recharge such phones.
‘Will surrender sat phones if hike not withdrawn’
Adding to the woes, the BSNL from April 1, 2021, steeply hiked the monthly recharge fee to Rs 3,541. If the users could not pay the amount during the seven-day of grace period, a penalty of Rs 12,500 would be levied as late fee, BSNL said. Hence, we have decided to surrender all sat phones to authorities at Thengapattinam fishing harbour on June 20, if authorities failed to convince the BSNL to reduce the tariff, he added.