ACCUSED: The main accused in the formalin fish import scam is Ibrahim Shaikh (far left) who has admitted to importing huge quantities of fish from Chennai and other places during the fishing ban in Goa (left) the Margao fish market is in the eye of the storm
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
It seems clear that the FDA has been colluding with the sharks in the fishing industry to poison Goans with formalin-contaminated fish for over four decades. FDA director Jyoti Sardesai ordered raids and discovered the conspiracy only because other states like Assam, Bengal and Chennai had banned formalin fish. Is the steep increase in cancer cases in Goa linked to Goans eating formalin contaminated fish year after year between June and September when fresh fish is not available?
Maulana Ibrahim, who lives in Fatorda and admits to being a close friend of Vijai Sardesai, claims he has been importing and exporting large quantities of fish for the last 40 years. Is it possible that he has been using cancer-causing formalin for preserving the fish for export and for local sales for the last 40 years?
Food and Drugs Administration Director Jyoti Sardesai admits that she ordered raids on trucks bringing imported fish into Goa after she read about similar action by Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam. Is it possible that during the reign of successive directors of the FDA, for the past 40 years Ibrahim has been bringing contaminated fish from outside? Is there a possibility that the increasingly high incidence of cancer in Goa is due to the mass consumption of formalin-contaminated fish, particularly in the monsoons?
In theory fishing is banned in Goa for two months — between June 1 and August 1 annually. So much so, except for the river fish like modso and chonak, all other fish like prawns, pomfrets, or even mackerels, sold during this period must be coming from outside the State.
FRESH WITHOUT REFRIGERATION?
It has been admitted that the fish — more than 20 truck loads — came from Chennai which is almost 1,000 km from Goa. None of the trucks seized or checked by the FDA last week were refrigerated trucks — which is the only way to transport food items, including fish, safely. The fish cannot remain fresh without some preservative being used. So Maulana Ibrahim of Fartoda could have been using formalin for the last 40 years.
Goans love their fish. Parrikar himself has admitted that what he missed most when he was defence minister in Delhi was his xitt kodi. Like him there are many Goans who have fish both for lunch and dinner and don’t care whether they are preserved in formalin or any other poison. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, incidents of cancer have been increasing. Could Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s cancer be caused by contaminated fish?
Under pressure from Parrikar, the FDA has released its report on the test it conducted on the fish tested at the Goa border. We do not know whether the report released is the original report or one modified on the directions of Vijai Sardesai to save his good friend Maulana Ibrahim.
Talking of Maulanas, is the title to be adopted only by those who teach the holy book? I am making the reference to this because on Facebook there are objections to calling Ibrahim a Maulana.
The ‘Permissible’ debate
When the FDA did spot checks at 4:30 am at the border on fish taken from 17 trucks they claimed that the fish had formalin and banned the trucks from coming in to Goa. But the report made public by Jyoti Sardesai, who coincidentally bears the same surname as Vijai, the Fatorda MLA, formaldehyde in all 20 samples were in “safe amounts”.
To quote the FDA “The spot test performed by the analysis at the site at Panjim and Margao is an indicative test and the presence of formaldehyde specifically needs to be confirmed by carrying out detailed tests in the lab”, according to the report signed by Chandrakant R Kambli, senior scientific officer in the food testing lab at Bambolim.
FDA director Jyoti Sardesai, probably under pressure from the fish importing lobby headed by Ibrahim, with the support of Vijai Sardesai and Vishwajit Rane, has been claiming that the formalin is within ‘permissible’ limits.
She is reported to have told media “all the samples found to have less than 0.5 ppm of formaldehyde”.
However, according to Arun Baba Naik, who is a graduate of the prestigious University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT) Mumbai, and Dr Oscar Rebello, one of Goa’s most well known doctors, there are no permissible limits for formalin in food.
In other words formalin which causes cancer should not be used in the preservation of any food items, including fish.
FOREIGN FRUIT TOO?
Last Sunday we stopped to buy some apples from the road side vendors outside GMC. I understand that they have been shifted from there on the orders of Vishwajit Rane. When the better three-quarters asked the migrant lady selling the apples, she told her that the smaller apples were from New Zealand and the bigger were from Australia.
In fact, if you go to the Panjim market, you will only find apples from New Zealand and Australian or even from China, but not from Uttarakhand, where the best Indian apples or the best apples in the world are grown.
At the prices at which the apples are sold, they could not have come by air, as air transport is very expensive. They probably have come by ship which could take several days to reach Goa from New Zealand or Australia or even China. So they have to be preserved in some chemical. The most popular choice of preserving fruits and vegetables as pointed out by the chief minister is formalin.
Thankfully Parrikar was in Goa and prevented Vijai Sardesai and Vishwajit Rane from poisoning the people of Goa by taking sides with Ibrahim. Indeed he issued orders immediately to the FDA not to permit import of any vegetables, fruits or fish, the staple diet of Goa, which have any formalin content. When Parrikar takes charge, things move very fast, and kits for testing formalin in fish have already been secured from the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT). This is a litmus test where the coated strip turns purple if the fish has formalin and turns yellow if it is free of formalin.
I only hope now that Jyoti Sardesai has the support of the chief minister she will conduct similar tests on New Zealand apples and other imported goods that supermarkets are groaning under.
Malls and shops sell chocolates from Belgium and even ice-creams made by ‘London Dairy’, not to be confused with ‘Mother Dairy’ of Delhi or Amul. Much of the beef and pork served by 5-star hotels are imported from Australia and other countries, as are various varieties of cheese.
In Goa the greatest contamination is often in liquor, particularly caju feni. The conspiracy to poison Goans and spread cancer through the use of formalin in fish (and maybe fruits/vegetables) has been temporarily halted on the orders of Manohar Parrikar. Perhaps he was conscious that the Assembly session was starting on July 16, 2018, and he did not want to give the opposition a chance to embarrass the government.
But Parrikar will be gone by the first week of August, immediately after the monsoon session of the Assembly. He has himself announced that he has to go back to New York for further treatment. When he will come back nobody knows. In Parrikar’s absence will Vijai Sardesai and Vishwajit Rane be up to their old tricks again?
It is clear from the formalin controversy that Goa needs a strict headmaster like Parrikar to keep naughty boys like Vijai Sardesai and Vishwajit Rane under control. We recommend that he suspend the Assembly, declare ‘Presidents Rule’ and appoint Arun Baba Naik as advisor who is not only an alumni of UDCT and owner of a pharma company, but also a close friend of Parrikar.