Nandkumar M Kamat
It was like any other day in November 2010 when at about 7.30 pm I visited CCP fish market in India’s second richest town to check for kingfish (isvon). This market is familiar to me since my childhood, specifically from 1965. I have witnessed its transformation over the decades.
When I saw a few neatly piled medium sized kingfish on a wooden plank, I went to the lady fish seller, a neo Goan, studded in gold ornaments and began to examine the fish because earlier my complaint with FDA about chemical treatment of fish had not yielded any results. She shouted at me in a distortion of Konkani – “don’t touch it, “I just looked at her shocked but there was more to come. Iignored her and began to inspect another specimen. She shouted again- “didn’t I tell you, not to touch? You can go elsewhere, there is nothing to inspect here, you just buy them”. But she did something next which I never imagined any law permits – she gripped my right arm roughly and angrily pushed it aside”. I was speechless for a moment.
A wave of indignation and humiliation was spreading over me. I wondered what has happened to this city of my birth? Some other consumers were looking. One of them said “ this is not new, the mafia is ruling CCP fish market, what else you expect”. “You cant do this”, I told her, “we have right to inspect what we eat”. But she was very rude- “go, go do what you want”. I told her, “alright then I am going to the Panaji police station”.
At Panaji Police station nobody was interested in my grievance. They found it funny. Then I rang the chief secretary Sanjay Srivastava who held the home department and asked him to talk to the PI. The PI muttered something and nodded his head and asked me – “what I am supposed to do”?
I told him protect the fish consumers from being abused, humiliated and threatened. “First you summon that lady and warn her” I demanded. But nothing happened for some time. I sat on a chair foolishly and then decided to make a call to the chief minister Digamber Kamat himself. After he heard me he speak to the PI. Then the PI sent a constable with me to CCP market. The whole experience was traumatic. This incident led to an article in this column “Political Economy of Fish Cartels” on November 14, 2010 in which I had written-“ FISH is the staple food of Goa and the main source of proteins for a million local fish consumers….
It was only during the regime of the MGP that the fisheries department had kept local common fish consumers at the centre of the picture.
Now the focus is exclusively on meeting the demand for hotels, processors and exports-all at the cost of local fish consumers held hostage by the nexus between market forces, the state government and MPEDA. The worst part is that, the Government of Goa has opened floodgates for all and sundry to dump stale and rotten fish. These are carefully deep frozen in slabs of ice and sprayed with preservatives. The inexperienced consumers cannot tell anything about the quality of the fish due to ice induced ‘rigor mortis’. They find that they are cheated only after thawing the rotten fish.
The government has turned a blind eye to rampant, open retail sale of stale, rotting, diseased and bacterially, chemically contaminated fish in local fish markets. This is Goa’s best kept market secret from a sector which extracts huge subsidies from the government but never passes the benefit to ordinary Goan fish consumers.
For the past 15 years, politically well-connected ruthless interstate cartels have been dumping inferior quality fish in Goa’s markets. One can see their agents in every urban fish markets. Margao, Mapusa, Vasco and Panaji fish markets have been completely taken over by these powerful cartels. The health department and the Food and Drug Administration do not keep an eye over stale, rotten and diseased fish. The Consumer Protection Act has not been invoked against this cheating. The wholesale and retail fish sellers would never permit daily quality inspection of what they import and sell in Goa. This is a tragedy of our public health policy. People are not buying their staple food but bringing home bacterial, viral and protozoal diseases. Children are vulnerable to fish borne toxins.
The government does not take any samples for mandatory quality tests. The onus of proving that the fish which they sell are fit for human consumption should lie with the seller. The cheating of customers has reached such a level that rotten and fresh fish are mixed together and sold. The state government would wake up only when a fish-borne epidemic hits Goa. The municipal and panchayat authorities, the health department, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the weights and measures department need to wake up.
“ Nothing happened for a month after this article got published, so on December 13, 2010, I sent an email to then CM Kamat. Here is the text of that email which would be useful to his Congress party MLAs in assembly as a reference- “Attention hon CM, Goa, I request you to issue a notification making it mandatory for all the fishsellers in any urban and rural markets in Goa to permit customers to inspect the unpackaged fish and shellfish as we do routinely for fruits and vegetables. Give it wide publicity. Those who do not comply with this notification should not be permitted in the market. Fish imported in Goa should be sampled for quality. Fish transported from jetties in Goa should also be inspected. Routine quality checks need to be conducted morning and late evening in city markets. All the police stations need to be given instructions to help the fish consumers in case they need police protection to purchase fish in nearest market within their jurisdiction since the customers are being manhandled and threatened. This is minimum government can do. The situation was described a month back in my article. But still we face humiliations in the market.” So don’t be surprised that the cartel was exposed eight years later. It was bound to happen.