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Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Thursday, 2 June 2005 17:29 UK

Bengal's favourite fish off the shelf

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Hilsa fish
Steamed and curried preparations of hilsa are considered delicacies (Pic: Mizanur Rehman)
There is bad news for lovers of hilsa - the favourite fish of the Bengali community.

The tastiest of this shiny, silvery fish has always come from the rivers of neighbouring Bangladesh.

But since the middle of May, supplies of Bangladeshi hilsa have dried up in India after the authorities stopped imports on hygiene and sanitation grounds.

Hilsa prices in the Indian state of West Bengal, as a result, are poised to shoot up substantially from the present 100 to 120 rupees ($2.3 to $2.7) a kilogram, putting the fish out of reach of middle class Bengalis.

Officials in Delhi do not realise how important hilsa is for Bengalis
Syed Anwar Maqsood,
Hilsa Importers Association

Indian authorities are using a five-year-old directive to stop hilsa imports.

The directive says that livestock can only be imported with valid "sanitation" permits.

It also says the fish, a South Asian variation of the shad, can only be imported by air or sea.

Protest

Most of the hilsa, however, arrives by road from Bangladesh.

The Meghna river in Bangladesh
The tastiest hilsa comes from the rivers of Bangladesh

Last year, West Bengal imported about 5,000 tonnes of hilsa from Bangladesh.

Fish sellers in West Bengal are protesting against the directive.

"Fish like hilsa cannot be regarded as livestock. We import hilsa by land, so how can we have permits for each consignment?" asks Syed Anwar Maqsood, secretary of the Hilsa Importers Association.

"Officials in Delhi do not realise how important hilsa is for Bengalis."

West Bengal also imports hilsa from Burma, but fish-loving Bengalis swear that they are nowhere near as tasty as the ones from Bangladesh.

The importers have now asked the West Bengal government to intervene.

West Bengal's fisheries minister, Kiranmoy Nanda, says his government will look into the matter.

Bengal's most popular delicacy is prepared in many ways, the most popular being the steamed and curried varieties.

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