The Navhind Times Archive

Why Health Minister Blows Cold On Fish Ban

We are witnessing a strange case of health governance: there is a ban on import of fish and there is permission to import it too! On Thursday morning, trucks from other states brought fish to the wholesale market in Margao where it was sold, much to the delight of the traders! What was bizarre was that Health Minister Vishwajit Rane had said a day earlier that the government had not allowed anyone to import fish. Yet fish importers brought their fish and even sold it! On the top of it, the traders claimed their fish was free from any toxins – and had always been! As if the Goans believed their self-certification!

It is not clear who are undermining the government ban: the key importers or the bosses of health department or both of them together. For, the health department’s earlier position was that no fish would be allowed and if anybody brought fish the consignment would be sent to the solid waste management plant at Saligao. However, no truck was sent to the Saligao plant on Thursday. The consignments of all the trucks were unloaded without anyone checking whether the fish was free from toxins. There were no FDA officials to check. The fish went to the wholesale market of Margao. The wholesale fish traders at Margao have not yet got the licence from the FDA. Yet they sold fish in total disregard of the requirement.

The reaction of the health department to the outright violation of the ban on the fish importers and wholesalers was mild and friendly. Where is the Herculean toughness of the health department bosses gone? The Goans at large have a right to ask Health Minister Vishwajit Rane why has the ban on fish import and trade been relaxed without the traders and wholesalers complying with the requirements, the lack of which were behind the justification for the ban, and without world class testing facilities in place? We were told that the government was not going to allow fish import and trade until all the traders had got approvals from the FDA. No wholesale trader has applied for approval during the period of the ban. The wholesale traders have to have a no objection certificate from the municipal authorities and other basics before they can be entitled for FDA approval. The wholesalers have been avoiding it probably because they do not meet the conditions required for the approval. The wholesale fish traders of Margao do not have a business address. When they last tried to get FDA approval they all gave ‘Wholesale Market, Margao’ as their business address.

A question needs to be asked of the Health Minister: what has changed to qualify the fish importers and wholesalers to get fish from other states and sell them to the Goan consumers? The importers claim that they are getting fish from Karnataka and Maharashtra in insulated trucks and have all the approvals of the food and drug authorities of the states from where they are getting the consignments. Can the Goan consumers believe the importers about the fish brought being fit for consumption?

The Goans are highly confused about the health department’s attitude. The health department, instead of stopping fish trade without all approvals, is allowing import and trade. On Friday morning, the health department even sent FDA officials to the Margao wholesale market to ‘certify’ that the fish brought was free from toxins!  Goans have not forgotten that when in July FDA teams at Margao found formalin in the samples of fish in the truck consignments in spot tests, the finding was rejected by the FDA director and the health department on the ground that laboratory tests had proven the spot finding wrong. Were the samples drawn by FDA officials for a spot test at Margao on Friday sent to the laboratory at Panaji before the health department declared them free from formalin?

It is a matter of great shame that the machinery of an organization as gigantic as government has failed to ensure a whole population fish fit for human consumption. All the organs of the government seem incompetent and ineffectual in this regard. Fish is a staple in Goan diet. It has been a staple for generations. Yet the government in general and the health department in particular have been groping in the dark about how to help Goans keep getting safe fish, while the fish importers and traders continue to do whatever they want. No regulation applies to them. Goans will not forgive Health Minister Vishwajit Rane for blowing cold after blowing hot over an issue that is so important to Goan diet, Goan culture and Goan society.

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