Rohit Zantye, President of Goa Cashew Manufacturing Association (GCMA) speaks on the illegalities being carried out by some traders and the effect this has on Brand Goa

What is the recent controversy regarding the illegal traders of cashew nuts?
We have received reliable information and evidence that on the coastal belt there are plenty of shops selling cashew nuts and not following the norms laid down by the government and FDA for selling food items. If one is going to pack cashew nuts at the premises one needs a packing license which these shops do not have. At GCMA, we had received complaints from tourists who have purchased cashew nuts from these shops and we requested our members to visit a few shops along the beach belt. Our members visited at least fifteen shops and we were shocked to find out that these shops were selling cashew nuts without the requisite declaration from Legal Meteorology Department like MRP, date of manufacturing, address of the shop, FSSAI requirements like FSSAI number, contact number of the proprietor and other important details. When these packets were opened we realised that at the centre of the pouch most of the nuts were of bad quality and not fit for human consumption. There were only a few edible ones and the weight too did not add up as they said it was 500 gms but when we weighed them it was just 420 gms. Out of that 420 gms only around 200 gms were edible and we are not aware under what conditions these nuts were packed. Also, an invoice was not raised when these purchases were made. So as an association we contacted the Legal Meteorology Department, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and we will appraise the GST Commissioner about the acts of commission and ommission and to put forth the issue to them about this rampant acts of illegal cashew trading.

What are the alleged illegalities being carried out?
The illegalities being carried out by these shops falls under various categories of the FDA, the Legal Meteorology Department, the FSSAI which includes disclosures to be made on the packet, licenses for the store, a repacking license, which are not provided by these stores. For example the packing address just gives the name of the store with the place rather than the complete address which is an important requirement. This in turns affects Goa’s premier brand which is Zantye’s as most of these stores have put up a board with Zantye on it without having sought our permission to do so. Customers who buy these products are in for a loss because when they realise they have been cheated they usually can’t trace the products back to the store. The only thing they remember is our brand, which results in them informing us by email and this is how it has been brought to our notice about the illegalities going on along the beach belt.

How are these illegalities affecting the trade in Goa?
Regarding the effect it has on Goa, I would say that Goa is known for its cashew nuts. We have been able to create this brand over the last 60 years by selling cashew nuts at a reasonable price and giving tourists a true taste of Goan cashew nuts. Over the years, various factories like that of Zantye’s, Kamat’s, Lawande’s and Desai’s have not just marketed the product but have provided proper Goan cashew nuts to the tourists. They have realised that Goan cashew nuts have something which is not available in their hometown and has a unique taste. As word spread, the Goan cashew brand was created. Once the brand was created, the local industries began benefitting. Off late, plenty of new traders hailing from out of state have entered the trade and are trying to cheat tourists. Initially they tried cheating tourists by selling them imported cashew nuts which were processed in another state as Goan cashew nuts. But now since the competition amongst them is so intense they have begun cheating tourists by giving them less quantity or selling inferior quality products. When a tourist goes home and serves these cashew nuts to their friends, brand Goa gets affected. What took us 70 years to create we have lost in the last 2 to 3 years. Plus Goa state has lost out on a large amount of revenue. There are different slabs of GST for plain cashew nuts, flavoured ones and those with a chocolate coating. The state has to earn at least 30% of this but since rules are not being followed, the state is losing out on revenue.

What is the current punishment for such illegalities and as President of GCMA what do you suggest the authorities should do?
We have met the controller of weights and measures and they have informed us that for a first time offence the goods are confiscated. Most of the raids that have been carried out are done by legal meteorology department who fines them `25000/-. If caught a second time they are fined `50,000/-and for the third time they are jailed. There are stricter fines as per FDA.
As President of GCMA, I feel authorities should keep a check on illegal trade. If this is allowed to go unchecked, traders who are following all the rules and legalities are affected. It is usually the processors who are still buying Goan cashews at a higher rate that get affected badly. If Goan cashew processors are not able to sell their products in Goa it will kill their businesses. If they shut shop it will be a loss for the Goan economy as there will be less demand for Goan cashew nut which will result in a loss for Goan farmers. Cashew nuts are a part of the Goan culture and we take great pride in cashews as we get various products apart from the nuts like bibé, feni and urrack. People usually carry back 3 to 4 kgs of cashew nuts and if these illegalities continue it will not take much time for this brand to be lost. We are always ensuring that we give a fair price for our products. The Agriculture Department has pointed out that Goa produces 20 thousand tonnes of raw cashews which is almost equal to 250 to 300 crores and this money goes to the farmers. Most of our farmers are dependent on this trade and it is their main source of income. If the trade is affected everyone gets affected and this results in loss of revenue and employment for the farmer, the intermediaries and ultimately the state.

How do you propose the authorities should handle the evasion of GST in these cases?
I feel that authorities should visit these stores as a layman and try to extract information about these illegal stores. They should set an example in these areas by punishing the people running the stores and levying heavy fines on them. This way others who are running such illegalities will be warned and they will stop indulging in such activities. I feel such visits should be made often as the problem has escalated over the last 2 or 3 years. Continuous efforts should be made by various departments to try and sort out this problem.

Cashew nuts are being imported from other states and this spells a loss for our local cashew farmers. What would you suggest as a precaution to avoid this?
People are there in this trade because they are able to generate a large amount of revenue by bypassing the law, by evading taxes, by cheating consumers when it comes to price as well as weight. Currently Goan cashew nuts are sold at a reasonable price and the ones who are part of the illegal trade won’t be able to survive by carrying out the trade in an honest manner. The association is already in the process of applying for a GI tag. Once that is done there will be a definite mark which will be on the packet and help distinguish the Goan product from the one that is brought from out of Goa.
Illegal traders are completely misusing brand Goa and liberally using the Goan name on their shops and packets. Till we get the GI tag we have to keep a lookout and if they are stopped in their malpractices, Goans traders and processors along with farmers can benefit from the trade. Goan cashew nuts have value only if they are sold in Goa. Once they go outside the state no one can trace its origins which end up being a blot on brand Goa.

How do you expect the various departments to nab illegal shop owners?
I think it is very easy and if one were to visit the beach side they would find various outlets selling illegally. They can just enter a store and ask for the relevant documents. If the government wants to protect the consumers as per the law, protect farmers and traders and ultimately brand Goa they have to take action now or it will be too late in the future. Since cashew nuts are an intrinsic part of our culture we would not want to lose out on that

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