IndiaScoops.com Bureau | Panaji | 13th July 2018: After a very strenuous and tiring Thursday, president of the wholesale Fish Traders Association of Goa, Ibrahim Shaikh alias Haji Ibrahim alias Ibrahim Musa (different names have appeared in different news reports) and his colleagues and cronies and other big inter-state fish traders operating in Goa were sharing a relaxed cup of tea late on Thursday evening.
Though they were done for the day, and a big business catastrophe had been averted, their pockets were lighter by Rs 25 lakh.
Of course, this was only the first installment. Goans have wondered aloud on social media, how the entire Goan government was ‘bought’ for just Rs 25 lakh?
Well, we forgot to mention yesterday that the Rs 25 lakh ‘bribe’ figure was possibly only the first installment or initial down payment.
The fish mafia is said to earn a profit of Rs 10-15 lakh per day in Goa. Which means Rs 3 to 5 crore is what they earn in profits each month. Or Rs 80 to Rs 120 crore are the annual profits of the big fish traders in Goa, controlled indirectly by their political bosses.
Ten per cent of this amount would translate to Rs 30 to 50 lakh per month as kickbacks or ‘bribes’ per month distributed to politicians who control the fish mafia in Goa.
A reliable source who works as a PA to one of the fish mafia politicians tells us that even the price of daily fish imported into Goa is decided by his boss (the politician) and not by the fish traders.
Our sources tell us that politicians, senior police officials and bureaucrats in Goa get complimentary fish – the best of the catch almost everyday. Some politicians even order their daily quota of fish directly from the traders, without paying them.
Yes, you heard it right, Rs 25 lakh is the amount paid by the fish mafia to a coterie of Goa government officials, including FDA officials and Ministers in the Goa BJP-led government on Thursday to get a clean chit for the 17 formalin-laced fish trucks that were contaminated and otherwise harmful for human consumption and which initially tested positive for formalin in spot tests conducted at the markets.
This figure was revealed to IndiaScoops.com from very reliable and knowledgeable sources directly associated with the wholesale fish trade in Goa.
Many wholesalers in Goa are upset that they had to shell out and contribute huge sums of money to save the backsides of the unscrupulous traders who resort to “treating” fish with formalin. Not all traders use formalin every time to ‘treat’ fish, though most of them do at some time or the other, depending on the weather and the ‘catch’.
Skeptics and opponents of this report will rush to rubbish this post as fabricated or ‘fake news’ or mere speculation. But we at IndiaScoops.com have it from the horse’s mouth. There is no hardcore ‘proof’ as the blind supporters of the BJP-led Goa government and its Ministers will demand. This post is based on hearsay and unconfirmed sources, they will argue, but yes, some of the best and biggest exposés in the world originated from hearsay and even gossip.
Consider what former head of the department of microbiology, Goa University (GU), Joe D’Souza has to say regarding the clean chit given by the Goa FDA:
“Formalin decomposes within hours and by the time the fish was taken to the laboratory at Bambolim by the FDA, it could have decomposed to carbon dioxide and water. The very fact that formalin was found through a spot test, is a serious matter. Repeated use of formalin even in small quantities as well as its accumulated residual effects are dangerous, the former head of GU’s microbiology department told the Times of India.
Formalin can cause nephritis-inflammation of the kidneys.” When fish with formalin is transported from other states, residue may not be present on its surface by the time it reaches Goa. But the formalin has entered and penetrated the tissues and flesh of the fish, which is impossible to remove. At times formalin is sprayed inside the body of the fish or even injected into the fish.
Another expert from the Goa Fisheries department who didn’t want to be named said:
There is no permissible level for formalin in fish. Formalin should never be used and the only preservative that can be used to store fish is ‘food-grade or consumable ice’. This has been ratified by the FDA of different Indian states in the past. It is now surprising that the Goa FDA claims that the formalin content in the seized fish trucks was within permissible limits. I want to know what are the permissible levels that the FDA detected?
In the US and other European countries, formalin or formaldehyde is illegal in food beyond any naturally occurring microscopic trace amounts. There is nothing like a permissible level for formalin. The only permissible level for formaldehyde in fish is zero.
Another expert claims that there are different tests and methodologies to detect formalin in food substances. Under pressure from the fish mafia, Goa government and certain Ministers with vested interests, the Goa FDA changed the testing methods that resulted in different results being obtained for the same sample of fish.
The Goa Citizens Action Forum (GCAF) claims that two Ministers were “worried” that the raids would result in a complete ban on fish coming in from other states and would derail the livelihood of hundreds of people dependent or associated with the trade. In reality, the GCAF alleges that the Goa government was protecting the business interests of a few big fish.
“There have been raids across the country. If one reads the news over the last one month, there have been huge seizures of formalin laced fish in North India as well as Kerala. About 28,000 kgs of formalin-contaminated fish was detected and impounded in Kerala over the last three weeks alone and about 6000 kgs of shrimp was destroyed. In Hyderabad, about 9000 kgs of formalin-laced fish was returned to its source. This formalin contamination issue is very big and is spread nationwide. The main source of contamination is Tamil Nadu where big trawlers bring in tonnes of fish which has to be sold. While all the states detected formalin and either destroyed the consignments or returned them, it is very surprising that the Goa FDA under pressure from the government immediately gave a clean chit to the fish trucks, in spite of detecting the banned chemical in initial tests,” a GCAF spokesperson told IndiaScoops.com.
According to IANS reports, the FDA raids were conducted at the Goa’s main wholesale market near Margao town in South Goa and in the fish market in the state capital of Panaji. Following the raids, fish market associations closed down the market places in protest for the rest of the day.
The Goa FDA, in a statement issued on Thursday, said that the raids were conducted after media reports suggested that the fish being sold at the wholesale markets was laced with formaldehyde to preserve the fish for long periods. Similar raids have been conducted at wholesale fish markets by FDA units in other states to crackdown on use of formalin to store fish.
“Team visited the wholesale fish market at Margao and collected samples of fish mainly from vehicles from other states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The samples tested positive, showing presence of formaldehyde, reports IANS.
“Hence as an abundant precaution, the fish vendors were instructed not to distribute the stock of fish till such time the detailed laboratory reports were available,” the statement said, adding that the samples of fish were later taken to the organisation”s laboratory for analysis.
“The results obtained for all the samples are found within permissible limits. The samples are thus declared to be safe for consumption. The whole process of sampling as well as detained analysis was undertaken on top priority basis, keeping in ind the perishable nature of fish,” the FDA press statement said.
The raids however took a political turn, with Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai taking to Twitter to claim that the fish samples were safe for consumption even as FDA officials were still compiling their laboratory reports, claims IANS.
Goans took to social media to demand answers. How can the Minister give a clean chit to the fish consignments even before the tests are completed, does the Minister know the outcome of the tests in advance, they asked, wondering if the Minister was dictating the test results to the FDA. Why was Sardesai involved. He is not the fisheries minister, it was not in his jurisdiction, unless he has vested interests in the business, Goans ranted on social media.
On social media, Goans openly accused Sardesai of being a partner in Ibrahim’s wholesale fish business. While Sardesai has time and again flatly and vehemently denied any direct connection or business interests with Ibrahim or any other fish traders, angry Goans claim it’s an open secret and Sardesai gets a huge payoff from Ibrahim’s business, the collection which runs into several lakh per day.
“Any knee-jerk action aimed at creating panic is uncalled for. Have spoken to the CM and concerned authorities expressing this view. Thankfully, FDA has now confirmed that reports indicate fish showing no trace of formalin and hence safe,” Sardesai tweeted, even before the final FDA test results were out, claims the IANS report.
The Congress has now accused Sardesai of playing with the lives of people of Goa for whom fish is a part of a staple diet and coercing the FDA officials into releasing a manipulated test report.
“They are playing with the lives of Goans by allowing fish with formaldehyde. This fish mafia should be taken to task… The minister has virtually coerced the FDA staff to give favourable results by giving the fish mafia a clean chit, even before the test results were declared,” Congress spokesperson Urfan Mulla said, according to an IANS report.
According to a coxswain from Vizhinjam, whenever costly fish are caught, fishermen would lift its gill cover and inject formalin into it to ensure that the fish remain ‘fresh’ for weeks. The formalin spreads within the fish tissues and body and after a few hours breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, making it difficult to detect in certain tests.
This is exactly what happened in Goa on Thursday and the fish traders got away with a clean chit, but with their pockets lighter by Rs 25 lakh.
with inputs from Times of India, Herald, IANS, etc
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