Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The two worship places  in Southern India famed for their prasadam are Tirupati-Tirumala Balaji Temple in A.P and Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple in Kerala where millions of devotees visit on pilgrimage and crowd controlling is a logistical nightmare of gigantic dimension. Still during the last so many years no major mishaps have been reported jeopardizing the lives of the pilgrims. There may be issues concerning cleanliness, hygiene, filthiness  and sanitation which continue to persist in spite of frequent claims of satisfactory remedial measures. Even to day Sabarimala is a veritable dumping place for garbage, plastic pieces, human excreta, rotting food left overs that make the environment unbearable for most of the visitors though as devoted Hindus they suffer such discomforts in silence. As for prasadam, Tirupati laddu and Aravana Payasam and Neyyappam of Sabarimala are world famous with each devotee carrying them to share the blessings with relatives and friends back home. But the "11th hour firefighting syndrome" is characteristic of Sabarimala where food safety officials are seen active only during certain festival seasons. Though the prasadam is prepared near the vicinity of the Temple where modern gadgets are supposed to be deployed, the products suffer from severe scientific limitations including limited process standardization, vague quality specifications, ill trained working personnel, inadequate sanitation and hygiene and lack of accountability. Here is a report emanating from Kerala which says that the Food Commissionerate finds it difficult to manage the food quality and safety due to lack of personnel to carry out sampling and analysis keeping in pace with the production. 

"With the High Court mandating food safety certification for 'aravana' and 'prasadam' sold at Sabarimala,  the pilgrimage season will be a real test for the food safety commissionerate. According to authorities, the food safety officers from every district will be randomly appointed at Sabarimala to ensure round-the-clock services. Commissioner of Food Safety T.V. Anupama told DC that Pathanamthitta district would be given top priority during the pilgrimage season.  The commissionerate is planning to appoint special officers at Pampa, Sannidanam and Erumeli to ensure quality of food and 'prasadam' being served to the pilgrims. The department will recruit three analysts in the lab to check the quality of jaggery coming from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. "Around 40 lakh tonnes of  jaggery is required every season and we have to be on our toes to check the samples from each truck arriving from other states. Either day or night we must scrutinise the loads to ensure that there is no adulteration. It's a tough  task," said a top official. Two of the total six analysts will be appointed in the lab at the shrine to check the quality of 'aravana' and four analysts will scrutinise the raw materials being transported to the shrine for 'prasadam' preparation. "Starting from November for a period of three months, the focus of the department will be on Pathanamthitta and Kottayam – where lakhs of Sabarimala pilgrims arrive," said the official. Sources say that the pilgrimage season will slow down the normal activities of the commissionerate as the full focus would be only on the two districts. "We are carrying out intensive drives every month throughout the state and the coming months we will not be able to carry out the drives. Staff crunch is a severe issue and around 80 posts are vacant," added the official."

It is most unfortunate that the responsible Food Commissioner is on record admitting that due to lack of personnel, the task is difficult though maximum efforts would be made to lessen the burden of unsafe and low quality foods on the pilgrims! What type of assurance is this from a senior representative of the mighty FSSAI in Delhi and how can the pilgrims place any confidence on them? It is the duty of FSSAI to ensure that adequate trained inspecting officials and analytical chemists are positioned on a priority basis in places like Sabarimala and Tirupati where lives of thousands of pilgrims are put in jeopardy every day. Even after three decades since the premier food institute in the country offered to undertake standardization and quality/safety related work, nothing much has been done and products like Aravana Payasam and Neyyappam remain almost inedible from the point of view of eating quality. Though there were some court strictures on this issue, the die-hard bureaucrats know well how to circumvent them with impunity! A time has come for the pilgrims to collectively put pressure on these politicians and bureaucrats to mend their ways and make the Shrine a lovable place to visit and enjoy the presence of the divine Ayyappa without any hassles and fears for their life..


No comments: