"Formalin injected fish” were the headlines of the newspaper dailies in Nagaland last week. But this is not something new, as adulteration of edible food, the extents to which they occur in varying degrees, infiltrate our markets. The scary part is how do we identify the authenticity of the commodities that we buy from the market? Consumer awareness, going organic and stricter food safety regulations seem to be some ways of going about this food crisis that is fast becoming a daily part of our lives.
A ‘Fishy’ Business
The Government of India, under the Ministry of Consumer Affair started Jago Grahak Jago, a consumer awareness programme. As a part of this initiative, the government has used multiple channels to create consumer awareness through Print Media Advertisement, Audio Campaign, and Video Campaign. As a child, I remember tuning in to Doordarshan Channel and watching the video Campaign which was very catchy, where consumers are alerted on the sale of expired products and sale of products above the MRP and numerous other issues alerting the consumers.
Now, for the past few days our local dailies are flooded with the news of formalin infested fish pouring in every single day. The news report reads over 900kg destroyed in Dimapur dated June 29, 2018(The Morung Express), while 1666 kg destroyed in Kohima dated 28 June, 2018( Nagaland Post) and Mokokchung banning the sale of imported fish until the formalin issue is resolved( The Morung Express, dated June 27, 2018).
According to a fish wholesaler, the bulk of fish are sourced from Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata and Assam. Around 20-30 tonnes of fish reach Dimapur daily by road, a portion of which also go to Peren, Kohima, Phek, Wokha and even Imphal. In Dimapur alone around 5-6 tonnes of fish are sold daily. So far news reports on formalin injected fish has been pouring in from only 3 districts in Nagaland. This trend should be stopped because we are in a phase where “Ignorance is no longer bliss”. The Nagas in general need to be aware, alert and vigilant on food safety, food security and hygiene, which is greatly lacking among the Nagas. Most people rarely do a double check on the expiry date of the food products, or the medicines they purchase from the market and silently bear the consequences. The need of the hour now is to be educated on our Consumer Rights.
The fish crisis which is happening at present is not just limited to Nagaland alone, given the fact that Andhra Pradesh supplies fish to other parts of the country. Therefore, this is not just a state crisis but a national crisis. Few years back, one of my friends from Wokha remarked on the differences between the fish we purchase from the market and fresh fish from Doyang River, the taste of which is very distinct. This makes me question why is it that the locally reared/grown products in Nagaland are not gaining importance or popularity? Some reasons could be because the public are ignorant about the various prospects available, due to price wars and the problem of taxation, which prevents the producers to meet the supply and demand of the consumers.
The public in general refrain from purchasing the local products. What is wrong with the local/organic products that we wind up going for chemically treated products which although might be comparatively cheaper but compromise on our health. The government should take the initiative on better distribution of Doyang fish in order to ban the supply of formalin injected fish into the market of Nagaland. However, the initiative should not be limited to fish alone, it should also extend to other items like vegetables, fruits, grains, cereal etc. as we have good agriculture produce every year. But, the only struggle is for a market, fair price and the absence of exorbitant tax.
Before the fish crisis took over the state with an uproar, there had been cases where some vendors in Dimapur were using chemicals for the artificial ripening of banana. So fish is not the only fishy edible consumed by the consumers. Hence, the public should not be overjoyed at the sight of huge mangoes, cabbage, pumpkins, watermelons and cauliflowers. We should always enquire and, question if they are organic or laced with chemical fertilizers before buying them from the market.
Nagaland as a state should work progressively towards the increase of our own fish production and work towards fish distribution in all the districts instead of depending on the fish supplied from the other states. With a fair price system and decrease in taxation, the fish production and distribution will flourish in Nagaland, it will also help in the growth of steady state economy and create employment opportunity for large number of unemployed youth, thereby providing a solution for unemployment.
Awareness on the part of the public is very vital. Vigilance and alertness can go a very long way in rescuing us from the hazardous effects of products supplied from outside the state. The public should also be mindful of the sea-food served in restaurants as we don’t have any idea or evidence on its source as it comes from far off places treated with chemicals for durability. The public may be more than willing to pay for the exotic/delicious meal completely ignoring the consequences.
I would like to conclude by saying that the Nagas are not lazy but hardworking folks, it’s just that things are a little topsy-turvy at the moment. Let this fish crisis not just remain as the tip of the iceberg but also serve as a means of unearthing the hidden depths of all the unseen crisis that may be prevalent in our society.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Tatongkala Pongen, Seyiesilie Vupru, Meren and Kvulo Lorin. Portrait photographer: Rhilo Mero. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.