Bihar’s health department Monday banned, with immediate effect, the business, sale, transportation and storage of all kinds of fish, dead or alive, within the municipal limits of state capital Patna.
The ban, initially for 15 days, comes after high content of formalin and heavy metals like lead and cadmium, were found in fish samples collected last October from 10 different locations within the Patna Municipal Corporation area, it said.
Anyone violating the ban would be liable to imprisonment of up to 7 years and fine of Rs 10 lakh, under Section 59 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, which deals with punishment for unsafe food.
Used for preserving fish, formalin is a carcinogenic substance, while heavy metals affect human kidney, lungs, eyes, bones and reduce immunity.
“It is quite possible that the heavy metals may be present in the food chain of fish. While trying to sensitise people during this intervening period, we will also request the animal and fisheries resources department to send a team to Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, the two states where Bihar primarily imports frozen fish from, to ascertain the source of heavy metals and formalin in fish,” said principal secretary, health, Sanjay Kumar, who is also the commissioner of food safety.
The health department also instructed its food safety wing to collect “legal samples” from other major fish consuming districts like Muzaffarpur, Purnea, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Darbhanga, besides Patna, he said.
“We did a sample survey in Patna municipal area. We will now do legal sampling, which is collection of a sample in four parts, of which one is given to the vendor from whom the sample is collected,” Kumar said.
Asked about the urgency to impose the ban without doing legal sampling, he said: “There was a sense of urgency after getting the laboratory reports because it concerned public health.”
Defending the delay in collection of samples and obtaining the laboratory test reports, he said, “Normally it takes 6-8 weeks for laboratory testing. The laboratories are also overloaded.”
The health department had collected fish samples on October 10, 2018, and got the result in the first week of January. It had collected 10 fish samples, of which six were from Andhra Pradesh, two from West Bengal and two were local.
While all 10 samples were found to be “contaminated” with heavy metals, high presence of formalin was found in seven of them, said Kumar.
Fish sellers slam move
Fish sellers were livid with the government’s decision to ban fish in urban Patna. The decision would affect an average daily business turnover of Rs 1 crore (approx.) in the wholesale fish market at Bazar Samiti here.
“The government is acting at the behest of a powerful lobby, which breeds fish locally,” said Anuj Kumar, secretary of the Bihar Fish Sellers Association.
“We have government-approved high rapid formalin test kit, which gives result in just 2 minutes. We check for formalin every day and can still test before anyone and show that no fish from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal or the local variety contain formalin,” he added.
Kumar said the result, which took 2-3 months to arrive, was not above suspicion. The result contradicts the pre-dispatch test result undertaken by the Andhra Pradesh government.
“All trucks coming to us from Andhra Pradesh are randomly tested for formalin and contain a certificate to this effect, issued by the AP government. It is also quite possible that the samples collected here may have been doctored. The government should explain why it took so long for the result,” he asked.
According to the association, the state’s average daily wholesale business of dead, frozen fish, imported from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal is Rs 4 crore (approx.) of which Patna accounts for Rs 1 crore (approx.)
An average daily 35 truckloads of fish, or 350 tonnes, is imported from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal to Bihar of which 70 tonnes is consumed in Patna. An average 6 tonnes (approx.) of fish comes from West Bengal daily of which Patna consumes nearly 5 tonnes
Bihar accounts for 5 tonnes (approx.) of fresh water fish produce, mostly from East Champaran (Motihari), Siwan, Patna (Masaurhi), of which Patna consumes nearly 3 tonnes