The South Wharf in Mangalore’s Bunder (port) area, which is usually buzzing with trade in essential commodities most of the year, is quiet. It is a lull that affects people in Lakshadweep, depending on country craft plying to and from Bunder here, bearing everyday supplies from the mainland to the islanders.
The relatively less trade is due to the annual ban on transportation by sea from May 15 to September 15 between the two destinations. Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner N. S. Channappa Gowda told The Hindu that the ban was imposed by the Karnataka government in view of the monsoon.
The people of Lakshadweep prepare for this lean period by stocking up essential commodities. “They will have to depend on stocks,” said G. G. Mohandas Prabhu, former president of the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Everything goes from here [Mangalore]. Sand, cement, animal feed, provisions, grocery… even motorcycles. In return, they bring with them copra and dried fish,” said Mr. Prabhu, a sixth-generation trader in animal feed based in the Bunder area. Stationery, textiles, vehicles, and vegetables are also sent from Mangalore to the islands.
Goods reach Lakshadweep in 28 hours, in country crafts weighing 70 to 90 tonnes, with 15 to 20 people on them. Their owners are in Mangalore and Lakshadweep, with a majority from Mangalore.
While 30 to 40 per cent of the island's requirements are from government sources, the rest go from Mangalore, Kochi, and Kozhikode, with the maximum from Mangalore. It was difficult to quantify the commodities going from Mangalore, said Mr. Prabhu.
The island accounted for 3 per cent of his total sales in animal feed. “The Lakshadweep demand is the source of an additional income for me in the non-monsoon time,” he said.
Although Kochi and Kozhikode were similar in distance from Lakshadweep as Mangalore, Bunder traders point to the “great affinity” built during a century of trade, between Lakshadweep, made of nine major islands, with a population of 80,000 to 90,000 people, and Dakshina Kannada.
Mohan Baliga, a wholesale tea merchant, said Lakshadweep traders preferred doing business in Mangalore rather than in Kerala, because of the port’s proximity to the market, and the consequent overheads (mainly lower labour costs).
“Bunder area caters to all their goods… all their requirements they buy from Mangalore,” he said. The copra they bring was sent to Mumbai for use in the oil and soap industry.
However, 70 to 90 per cent of the trade had been hit because of increased police patrolling after the Mumbai blasts. While country crafts are allowed to ply, traders cannot accompany the goods in the craft. Traders must travel via Kochi, stay in Mangalore to receive the boat, and then visit Bunder, all of which increases costs and is inconvenient.
“The Union or State governments should do something… get bigger boats or ship service [for people to connect between Lakshadweep and Mangalore],” he said.
Vasudev Kamath of M. Mukunda Damodar Hegde and Brothers had been trading with Lakshadweep since 1965, when his father-in-law known as “Bella Hegde” (“Jaggery Hegde”), ran the business. He used to sell jaggery from Ullal in Mangalore.
Mr. Kamath, who sends rice, sugar and oil to Kavaratti and Amindivi through 10 to 15 country craft, said: “They prefer Mangalore, as affinity brings the islanders to Mangalore. At one time, people in Lakshadweep would sweeten their tea with Ullal Bella [Ullal jaggery], a seasonal jaggery with an uncommon taste, which was manufactured from sugarcane grown in Ullal, Mangalore. As farmers sold their lands and migrated to cities, the sugarcane stopped. It [Ullal jaggery] is no longer available,” he said.