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Safe Fish On Table

IN an effort to woo voters the Congress has released a state-specific manifesto promising, among other things, to provide Goans formalin-free fish with the help of central government agencies. This is a promise no other political party has made. Since formalin was discovered in fish consignments in June last year the health department of the state government had gone in overdrive to prove that no hazardous chemicals were found in fish consignments. However, when fish markets across the state reported significant drop in sales owing to deep suspicion among Goans at large that the health department was lying, the government promised a string of measures to check preservatives in fish and ensure that it was free from formalin and other contaminants. However, these measures proved to be empty promises.

Even the food and drug administration (FDA), which functions under the health department, utterly failed to do its fundamental duty of preventing distribution and sale of fish containing hazardous chemicals. The health department turned FDA into a bird in a cage. The caged bird sang the tune of the government that was desperate to make people believe that fish importers were honest people who never brought fish laced with hazardous substances from other states. But then it was discovered that the honest and God-fearing fish traders had been carrying on their business without any licence for years! That proved that the FDA, the health department and a number of politicians had been clandestinely colluding with the fish traders to supply hazardous fish to Goans.

Goans would not easily believe the Congress promise as they have seen the present government failing to assure safe fish to them. Any new government would have to start with checking of fish imports. They should not behave like the present government did. Rattled by public criticism they organized sometimes random checks in the markets, sometimes checks on the borders. Both the checks were haphazard and withdrawn soon after they were introduced. The government then came up with the idea of setting up a state-of-the-art laboratory to test fish for toxins in accordance with international standards. The announcement was made last October and Goans were promised that the laboratory to be set up by Export Inspection Council would be functional in six months but though nearly seven months have passed since the announcement there is no sign of it being in place. Fish is a staple food for a large number of Goans. The voters would hope the Congress is not making a false promise to them. They want safe fish for consumption and the government must set up adequate regulatory and checking infrastructure to ensure that.

The Congress has promised to establish an adequately capitalised tourism development bank which will provide low-cost, long-term funds for investment in tourism businesses. We hope the Congress has not made the promise just to please the thousands of Goans with little capital who want to profit from income from the tourism industry. The fulfilment of this promise will require approval from the RBI, the Union finance ministry and a host of regulatory authorities. It would need funds. Instead of talking of opening a special bank for tourism businesses the Congress should have spoken of making it easier for tourism businesses to get finance. The state government could use its own undertakings such as EDC to broaden the financing base to include tourism businesses. The government could get the commercial banks in the public and private sector to advance loans to tourism businesses.

The Congress has promised to treat income generated from tourism business as special income and provide tax relief. The party has also chosen to tap another issue agitating a number of Goans and pledged to protect the Goan coastline and revoke the notification that changed the coastal regulation zones to allow development in areas located 50 metres from the high-tide line. The voters must know that fulfilment of promises such as tax relief, denotifying rivers and changing CRZ regulations require approval of national government and regulatory agencies. The party has promised to restart sustainable mining within the framework of the Supreme Court judgment and Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. The promise clearly suggests that the party will follow the same course that the BJP has been doing.

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