Fishy tales: Goa’s political pot boils over formalin (News Analysis)

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Panaji, July 22 (IANS) Governance in Goa appears to have gone into cold storage, even as use of formalin, a powerful disinfectant used to preserve cadavers, has grabbed state and even national attention, and led to fierce political wrangling and blame games.

With four ministers, including Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, being treated for serious ailments ranging from cancer to renal diseases and brain-stroke, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government, which is already on the back-foot over a string of handicaps, now seems to grappling with a fresh crisis: Infighting by its ministers over last week’s raid by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), which exposed use of formalin in fish consignments imported from other states into Goa.

According to rough estimates, fish imports from other states in Goa are valued at around Rs 3 crore per day and the seafood commands a better price especially during the annual fishing ban which ends on July 31.

Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai, who had to face popular backlash over his “clean chit” to fish traders accused of lacing fish with formalin, is now facing a bitter stand-off with Health Minister Visjwajit Rane, who has issued a public apology for his attempt to undermine the formalin controversy. The FDA functions under the aegis of the state Health Ministry.

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Both, Rane from the BJP and Sardesai from the Goa Forward are relatively young, ambitious politicians who have strategically switched political parties (or have threatened to) in their ascent to power.

Both were poised for a larger role in the scheme of things, when Parrikar’s return to Goa from the US, where he was undergoing treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer, appeared to drag on for months.

Over the last few days, Rane has been going hammer and tongs at Sardesai, demanding the Chief Minister extend a 15-day ban on import of fish from other states to a permanent ban “in the interest of public health” as a means to prevent the formalin fiasco from repeating.

Sardesai is being accused of being close to the fish importers lobby, who offload their consignments in a wholesale fish market in the Agriculture Minister’s constituency. The latter has rejected reports of his proximity to one of the biggest fish traders, Ibrahim Maulana.

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But Sardesai isn’t taking Rane’s subtle barb about closing down fish imports altogether lying down.

On Saturday, the minister took what appeared to be a sarcastic dig at Rane. “@visrane, an efficient minister in cabinet of @manoharparrikar should expose these ‘vested interests’ immediately and take action against them. We @GoaForwardparty support him in this,” Sardesai said, while also urging Rane to shift the entire wholesale market from his constituency.

The infighting between the two ministers over this “fishy turf” should only add to Parrikar’s headaches given the fact that several sensational issues have erupted in the state since his return to Goa last month.

The serial controversies which have put the spotlight on Parrikar includes revelation of links of a BJP office bearer to a factory producing ketamine in North Goa, the government’s approval of the “unpopular” draft Coastal Regulatory Zone norms, a stand-off between his Urban Development Minister Francis D’Souza and Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo and now the formalin controversy, in addition to the already brewing crisis following the mining ban in Goa since March this year.

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While the Congress staged a virtual stand-off in the ongoing monsoon session of the assembly, by refusing to proceed with legislative business unless the formalin controversy is first discussed, the Aam Aadmi Party in Goa said on Saturday that the drama between ministers in Goa shows that Parrikar’s government has become irrelevant.

“CM says I am monitoring the situation. He should be monitoring his ministers,” AAP convenor Elvis Gomes said, while demanding a criminal probe against those responsible for selling formalin-laced fish.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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