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The ban may be extended to the entire state if fish in other cities also test positive for preservative formalin and metals like mercury and cadmium.

Patna: The Bihar health department has banned the sale, transport and storage of fish in Patna for a fortnight, effective immediately.

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Sanjay Kumar, principal secretary of the health department, said the ban was being imposed after 10 samples collected from different areas of the state capital were found unfit for human consumption due to the presence of a high amount of the chemical formalin — a preservative that can cause cancer — and metals like mercury and cadmium, which are also carcinogenic and can cause kidney failures and mental ailments. The samples had been sent to the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata for tests, which confirmed the presence of these chemicals.

The ban may also be extended to the entire state, as the health department has asked officials to take samples from cities like Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Darbhanga, Purnea and Bhagalpur, and send them for tests to the Kolkata lab.

Violation of the ban will be dealt with under the Food Standard Safety Act, which carries the provision of seven years’ imprisonment, and a fine of Rs 10 lakh, IAS officer Kumar said.

Also read: Bihar booze ban: Bane for state, boon for neighbours

The problem runs deep

The health department carried out its tests in October, after the animal husbandry department found that formalin was being used to preserve the fish brought in to Bihar from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. It took time to impose the ban because “there was a heavy rush at the Kolkata lab”, said a state government official.

The Bihar government has indicated it will share its findings with the two other states. But the other aspect that has been highlighted is that the problem extends to fish from local ponds and rivers. A health department official said it was no surprise that local fish were found to be contaminated.

“The state pollution control board has sent repeated warnings to district authorities against immersion of idols and rivers of Bihar, but no action has been taken,” the official said.

The state government official quoted above conceded that the ban was unlikely to lead to much, as things were not really going to improve in the next 15 days.

Potential political impact

The ban could end up having an adverse political impact on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the NDA, since there is a perception that the state government has dragged its feet on the issue.

“The RJD is trying to woo the fishermen community, and has already inducted one of its political icons, Mukesh Sahni. The community will be very angry with our government, and our rivals are going to play it up,” said a JD(U) minister, adding that facts are not always used in politics.

Also read: Why you should not order the Basa fish at Indian restaurants

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  1. Formalin is used to preserve fish, in absence of proper refrigeration facilities. A lethal choice. One has often wondered how sushi works in a warm, humid country like India.

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