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Uprightness Punished

By punishing Iva, government is violating provisions of FSSA

A complaint has been lodged with the chief executive officer of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) against health department’s order of divesting Iva Fernandes as South Goa designated officer of state Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). Iva was in limelight after she led a team of state FDA officials to check imported fish at Margao wholesale market on July 12, last year, which found that fish was laced with formalin, a banned chemical used to preserve fish. It is surprising to note that the government has sought to punish Iva for having exposed formalin in fish rather than tackling the issue of banned chemicals used for preserving fish. Government while divesting Iva of the charge of her post has not cited any reason for action against her. However, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane told state legislative assembly on July 24 which was in session then that she was relieved of her post following receipt of a report of an inquiry conducted in formalin in fish issue, content of which have not been revealed to anyone.

Though more than 13 months have passed since the formalin in fish issue broke out in the state, the authorities have failed to set up a robust mechanism to check imported fish for presence of banned preservatives. Ever since the issue surfaced, the government has used haphazard steps to convince fish eating Goans that fish sold in the state markets was free from banned chemicals. After banning the import of fish initially, the government has resorted to checking the fish at the borders which have been haphazard. At one time the government “encouraged” self checking of fish using kit developed by a Kochi-based Central Institute of Fisheries Technology. When most tests proved positive for presence of formalin, the government went on to claim that testing method was faulty and the self checks were withdrawn. At the moment checks are being carried out by officials of Quality Council of India, a central institute, but the findings of two teams, one each at Patradevi in North Goa and Polem in South Goa have not been made public.

Why is Iva being punished? Has she aided and abetted crime against Goans by exposing the unholy nexus of fish mafia with some politicians into formalin in fish episode? It is surprising to note that rather being honoured for having exposed the scandal, Iva has to pay the price of having stood up against high and mighty. It is almost a month since the Health Minister said that he would consider reinstating her but nothing has happened so far. Has the enquiry report indicted her for any negligence? If so, the government ought to reveal it so that matter is set to rest. It is surprising to note that the Health Minister went on to accuse the FDA official for having unathorisedly spoken to media after the raids in Margao last year. If that is so, the other designated officer in FDA, Richard Noronha, who has been given the charge of post held by Iva, too should be punished as he too spoke to media after raids. The government cannot apply a different yardstick to him.

The government appears to have been using the issue to target the upright officer and has even gone to the extent of misleading judiciary by arguing on the inherent content of formalin in fish, rather than finding whether formalin was being used as preservative in the fish sold in state markets. If inherent formalin was enough to keep the fish fresh there would not have been any need to spend money on buying formalin to keep the fish fresh. Besides, in a hurry to punish Iva, the government apparently has violated the provisions of Section 36 of Food Safety Standards Act 2006, which stipulates each district shall have a designated officer. Besides, Section 88 of the Act also provides that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against officials appointed under the Act for discharging their duties in good faith or intended to be done under the Act or rules made there under. From its recent actions, the government appears to be hell-bent on punishing Iva rather than ensuring Goans consume fish free from chemicals.

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