Fish politics, or should it be called formalin politics, has taken a new turn. Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai’s suggestion that the import of fish be banned until such time that there is an adequate mechanism to the test the quality must be considered seriously. Aware that the state-of-the-art testing laboratories for fish that have been promised will take some time to set up, the minister has admitted that he has discussed the possibility of imposing a ban on the import of fish with the Chief Minister, and he has now gone public with his demand. According to the Minister, till such time it takes to regain people’s confidence in the quality of the fish that is sold in the markets, fish imports should be banned and only fish caught by Goan vessels should be sold in the market.
What the minister has done is voice what a large number of people have been saying since the formalin in fish issue broke out in July this year. Since that day in mid-July, the Goenkar who needs his fish on a daily basis, has been seeking out the local fishermen on the beaches and along the wayside, buying from the traditional fishermen rather than from the market. This is happening despite the fact that the government has assured that the fish on sale has no trace of formalin. Interestingly, Sardesai also admits that the fish markets are wearing a deserted look, giving his own example of seeing people purchasing fish from the traditional fishermen on the beaches.
Against this demand of the TCP Minister, the Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has proposed allowing fish imports only through insulated vehicles. But is that enough of a measure to rebuild the confidence of the people and send them back to the retail fish markets of the State? While the food testing laboratory will, once it is set up, reassure Goans on the quality of the food they are eating, what is the plan until then? Goans will have to make their choice known – do they want a ban on the import of fish or will they accept the fish that is delivered to the wholesale market through insulated vans.
The formalin in fish issue is not going to die a natural death. Soon after the announcement made earlier this month by Union Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu that the State will have a world class food testing laboratory, questions were raised by certain quarters on the effectiveness of the measures being undertaken. The misgivings voiced centered on the fact that the agency certifies consumables being exported rather than imported, which is the case in Goa. One has to, however, admit that the Export Inspection Agency (EIA) and Quality Council of India (QCI) are currently the most suitable to undertake the testing of fish and also other edible items that are imported into the State. The agency must be allowed the opportunity to prove itself, before being run down.
That, however, should not result in the fish traders not being pulled up for preserving fish with chemicals. As Prabhu said, “Anything that is edible must be of best quality,” the question arising from this statement is whether Goa today is getting the best quality of food. If not, will it get it from now on? That is what the people are asking for, not much, just that the edibles that are sold in the markets and which they buy and they eat is not contaminated by chemicals. This is all that this government needs to assure the people on. And meanwhile, an independent inquiry on the July fish in formalin scare has to also take place simultaneously to get to the bottom of that issue.