30 Sep 2018 05:27am IST
She is the Poster Girl of a brave new Goa Government bureaucracy that refuses to cow and bow down to Political Tyranny. Her accurate reports were destroyed, her truths were sabotaged but Iva Fernandes, FDA's designated officer who uncovered and exposed the Formalin in Fish Scandal still stands tall as her bosses try to break her spirit. Avinash Tavares digs out why Iva's stand is beyond the Fish Mafia - FDA - Political nexus' reach.
While Goa is yet to recover from the shock after realising that we have most likely been eating Formalin laced fish imported from other States by the alleged Fish Mafia, the powers that be especially in the Food and Drugs Administration have been going the extra mile to protect these importers by destroying evidence and silencing any sincere officer who believes in doing the right thing in the interest of the public.
Iva Fernandes, the Designated Officer of the FDA for South Goa district, has become a social media hero after news of her being targeted by the FDA Director Jyoti Sardesai came out. She has now approached the Human Rights Commission to seek justice to what she calls breach of her human and rights, and being subjected to hostile discrimination.
While the fact remains that Iva was only doing her job and chose to remain silent for a long time, the Director on the other had has been giving multiple versions of the incident from the day the raid was conducted at SGPDA wholesale fish market on the 12th of July.
Facts vs Fabricated
It may be recalled that on the 12th of July, fish which was imported from other states were tested between 4 am to 7 am in the morning using what was then described as “spot tests”. All 17 samples tested positive for formalin and were sent to FDA’s lab for testing. By afternoon, the Director announced that the formalin were within permissible limit. The administration claimed that the spot tests showed positive results due to presence of other aldehydes which may occur naturally in the fish. The possibility of any further test was lost since because the Director had instructed the FDA officers not to seal the vehicles but instead give the responsibility of the trucks to one Maulana Ibrahim.
On the next day (13th July), the four Food safety officers excluding Iva Fernandes submitted a report of, the details of which were very different from was witnessed by the public and journalists on that day. The report starts by saying that the raid was conducted under the supervision of Iva Fernandes on 12/7/18 at 4 pm, while the fact is that the when the raid began, Iva was not present at the site. She had arrived on the site only when the officers called her after samples tested positive.
Since the raid, Director and well as the Health Minister tried mislead the public that the test was conducted by Iva when infact, the test was conducted by the Food Safety Officers. Even the test kit was prepared by these officers on the previous day, which is the usual protocol.
Evidently, Iva Fenandes had suspected that she would be made a scape goat during the coverup. She took a leave on the 13th of July which was followed by the weekend holidays. On Monday, she submitted her version of the report in which she gave more details of the raid.
The Crucial Report that went missing and was found, then torn and then found again
The two most damning statements in her report were the fact that while the ice from the out-station trucks tested positive for formalin, the ice from local fish vendors tested negative. This statement clearly proves that the tests conducted for formalin were effective and accurate. It also contradicts any claim that all Shiff’s reagent tests detects any aldehyde since if that were the case, the ice and fish taken from the local fish vendors too would have tested positive., which they didn’t.
The second most damning statement in the report is the one which states that Sardesai contacted her over the phone of Mr Abrahim and asked her to refrain from sealing the vehicles. This directly implicates Sardesai for covering up and destroying the evidence.
Fernandes in her petition to the Human Rights Commission states that Sardesai did not allow her to register her report at the entry desk and the report was not recorded in the file. Fernandes calms that she later came to know that the report had gone missing, after which she placed a copy of the report in the file.
By this time, there were around 3-4 RTI’s inwarded by different people for the reports of the Raid. The FDA did not disclose Iva Fernandes’s report in the first RTI response. The second RTI applicant, Kashinath Shetye, claimed that the Public Information Officer tore Iva’s report in front of him. A few days later, he was given Iva’s report which exposed the coverup by the Director.
The Consequence of
Fernandes claims that since the incident she has been treated completely indifferent and hostile manner by Sardesai to the extent that the later stopped communicating with her. Apart from this unprofessional behaviour, Fernandes states that she was bypassed and kept out of all administrative decisions taken as regard to Food Safety, after the raid, and she was subjected to humiliation, with the intention to disgrace and upset her. Fernandes alleges that she is even barred from all FDA meetings.
The change of attitude of the FDA Director towards Iva Fernandes is quite evident from the fact that Fernandes has been absent from all press briefings since the raid.
Can the Director be trusted if she interferes with an
An important issue of concern in Fernandes’s petition is the fact that she being the South Goa Designated Officer, that is the district head of the FDA, is kept out of the proccedings of complaints and violations. Fernandes alleges that on the directions of Sardesai, all the Food Safety Officers of South Goa District are not reporting to the Fernandes which is in violation of section 41 of the Food Safety and Standard Act 2006. She alleges that even though she is on active duty, the Charge for South Goa has been verbally and illegally given to the Designated Officer of North Goa who now allots the work in South Goa even though he has no authority in South Goa.
As an example, Fernandes pointed out the inspection reports of Saptha fair, Goa meat complex, border checks for formalin, have been submitted to the Director directly. Fernandes stated that the Director “interferes in the investigation by Food Safety Officers without the Knowledge of Complainant and hampers the investigation”.
Has the FDA Lost The Trust Of The PublicThe fact that the Health Minister had to visit the SGPDA market with a scientist from Kerala to prove the fish is formalin free says volumes about the trust people have in the FDA. People of Goa can forgive the FDA for not being able to keep check on the thousands of food outlets but the act of knowingly covering up adulteration is a step too far.
The FDA has been so caught up with washing the taint of formalin of itself that the new hazard of rotten fish is going unnoticed. People are finding parasites and worms inside fish but the FDA has remained silent on the issue.
At the time when confidence building measures should have been adopted, targeting an upright and sincere officer will only discourage other officers from doing their job and exposing any other hazard hiding in the food we eat. This will be disastrous for the health of the people of Goa, especially the poor.