Even as ice block manufacturing units in Cuddalore district are running far below their installed capacity due to extended power cuts, the fishing sector is facing serious revenue loss.
The units numbering over 50 spread across the district used to produce 750 tonnes of ice blocks a day. However, many of them are now either idling or functioning to their partial capacity.
The resultant scarcity in the availability of ice blocks has affected fishermen and wholesale dealers in fish. In the absence of ice blocks that act as a preserving agent, substantial quantity of fish catch is not being transported to upcountry markets, sources said.
Organiser of the Cuddalore Ice Manufacturers' Welfare Association B. Apparsamy told The Hindu that the enormity of losses suffered by this sector on account ice block shortage would be known to the authorities only after statistics were collected. He knew for sure that fish exports from this region were in doldrums because enough ice blocks were not available to transport fish over long distances. The situation had forced fishermen to resort to distress sale.
As fish is highly perishable commodity, unsold fish would end up in the backyard of fishermen to be sold as dry fish. Mr. Apparsamy also said that it required uninterrupted power supply for 24 hours to bring the temperature to minus 14 degree Celsius to freeze water into ice blocks. If there was power shutdown in between, it would take another 50 hours for the units to attain sub-zero temperature. This translated into over consumption of electricity and hefty power bills.
Mr. Apparsamy also said that the units could not deploy generator sets because of prohibitively high cost of fuel. For running a 120-kva generator set for an hour, 15 to 20 litres of diesel would be required and with diesel selling at Rs. 45 a litre, the expenditure would be high.
In Puducherry, electricity was supplied to ice factories at Rs 2.50 per unit whereas in Tamil Nadu, power tariff was fixed at Rs 5.50 per unit and still they could not get adequate power.
After a great deal of effort, the power holiday for the units (imposed on Saturdays) was lifted by the government. Mr Apparsamy said that whatever be the cost of production, the price-sensitive market could not tolerate even a price hike of Rs. 5 per 50 kg bar.
These units were also facing labour shortage because a sizeable workforce had shifted elsewhere.