The doubts about the morality and efficacy of the food and drugs administration (FDA) triggered by the fear of formalin in fish are only getting more and more serious. In the latest unethical FDA action that has come to light, it has issued registration certificates to 10 fish traders from South Goa on the same day (September 14, 2018) and for the same purposes. It was very accommodative in granting them registration bypassing the rules. The traders were issued licences to carry on business activities as wholesalers, distributors and suppliers by clubbing them with petty business operators with annual turnover normally below Rs 12 lakh when it is estimated that each consignment of fish brought by the importers is at least worth Rs 1 lakh. As per the rules, hawkers, retailers and small businesses fall under the petty business operators’ category and are eligible for registration. Wholesalers and distributors come under the licensing regime where the rules are more stringent. All the ten traders had given ‘Wholesale Fish Market, Margao’ as their business address! The registrations were issued after the ban on import of fish was lifted by the government as per new guidelines to facilitate the traders to import fish. It has now emerged that the licences were granted without carrying out physical inspection of the site or address of business activity.
The FDA directorate has obviously gone out of the way to grant them registration. It has compromised on the rules and caused loss of revenue it could have earned by registering them through the licensing procedure. They paid only Rs 100 as fee, whereas they would have paid Rs 2,000 through licensing. The registrations were granted despite the fact that they had not produced no-objection certificates from the local civic body and health department for carrying out their business activities. Strangely the forms of all the applicants were apparently filled by one person and submitted three to four days before the registration. As per the rules the registration certificate should be displayed in the office premises, but none of the registered traders has an office where the same can be displayed! The FDA officials’ collusion with the fish traders with no business address is evident.
Ever since formalin in fish issue broke out in July, the FDA’s functioning has been under public scrutiny for failing to set up an effective and credible system to monitor safety standards in fish coming from other states. By saying formalin in fish was within permissible limits, the FDA earned public ire by trying to compromise on health issues as formalin is known to be a cancer causing agent. The FDA was exposed when a top official of FSSAI said that use of formalin in preserving fish was not permissible under the law. The FDA has changed its stand frequently leading to erosion of public confidence in it. To regain public confidence in FDA functioning, the government banned import of fish, only to withdraw it and introduce fish testing kits for layman without informing public how to use it. The amateur use of the kit by lay people led to fish testing positive for presence of formalin leading to hue and cry over the claim of the government that the fish available in the state was free from presence of formalin. It was only after the FSSAI official exhibited the process to be done in testing fish that the public was satisfied and the claims of formalin in fish ceased.
With more and more evidence emerging of FDA bunglings and unethical actions, there has to be a probe into the role of its top officials in going out of the way to help fish traders at the cost of the health of the people. It is necessary to find out why the reports of fish that tested positive for formalin content in July changed within hours. Perhaps to cover up their follies the FDA officials have been haunting and hounding the South Goa designated officer, Iva Fernandes and sought to get an inquiry ordered against her. Rather than working towards restoration of public faith in their functioning by taking corrective steps, the FDA top officials appear to be indulging in malpractices which should be stopped immediately. It is apparent that rather than going by well-established rules, the FDA officials are resorting to wrong and ad-hoc methods to beat the law and get away with their unethical practices. Goans are watching and they would not forgive the wrongdoing FDA top officials, nor the high-ups in the health department who are protecting them.