Follow the rules and then conduct the business. That is the crux of the decision taken by the government in the issue of import of fish into the State. After last week having said that the import of fish would be banned for six months, the FDA Minister Vishwajit Rane announced on Monday that fish imports would be banned completely, not just for a period of six months, but added a rider that businessmen who complied with the rules and regulations as laid out by the Food and Drugs Administration would be allowed to bring fish into the State and trade. While the ban as of now is indefinite, the government may consider lifting it if all the regulations that are mandatory are met by the traders.
The government may have been forced to change it decision of a complete ban, as even before the fish ban could have been enforced, there were already fears expressed by stakeholders in the tourism industry of an impact on the arrivals leading to the Tourism Minister tweeting a request to the FDA Minister to allow those who comply with the guidelines to import. A day later the Deputy Speaker sought that there be random checks on fish imports, rather than a ban. Travel and Tourism Association of Goa had said it was a drastic step, while Goa Shack Owners’ Welfare Society was worried that the ban could lead to a drop in arrivals, as tourists visit the State not just for the beaches, but also for the seafood. Ironically, going by the shack owners’ statements, the seafood the tourists eat is imported into the State, perhaps from their home State.
Rane is quite clear that this is a permanent ban for those trading illegally in fish. The minister went on to say that the ban is meant to stall any illegal transportation of fish into Goa without compliance of the directions. The government is adamant that there will be no compromise on the fact that traders will have to obtain a food transport license, FDA registration and transportation license either from Goa or the concerned States and bring the fish in insulated vehicles. It has also been announced that any illegal fish consignment will be confiscated and destroyed at Saligao waste treatment plant. All very commendable, but this poses a valid question of whether the fish import trade was illegal prior to this.
Was there no agency monitoring the import of fish into the State before Goa was rocked out of it slumber with the revelation of chemicals being used to preserve the fish?
It has often been pointed out by Herald, and in this column, that the government is reactive to situations rather than being proactive. This now appears to be another instance where the fish importers were brining in fish for sale in Goa following no guidelines whatsoever. It was only after the formalin scare that the government scrambled to put systems in place, taking its own time doing so. Now, those fish traders who do not meet the standards set by FDA will be termed to be ‘illegal’. But what about the fish import trade all these years, was it legal or illegal?
It’s a question that arises now as no one thought of asking it earlier, just as in the past no one thought of asking the same question regarding mining. And now we have the Fisheries Minister suggesting setting up a Fishing Corporation as a solution to the issue, just as it has been suggested that a Mining Corporation would end the illegalities in that sector. How many more illegal businesses are out there, just waiting to be unearthed, while the government plods along oblivious to what is happening around it?