Thursday, March 19, 2015

Apathy, thy name is FSSAI!-The Hyderabad "case"!

A recent report from Hyderabad regarding the food safety mess that is prevalent there makes a pathetic reading. A city where there are more than 20,000 eateries, monitoring of the quality of foods prepared and served there rarely occurs though the civic authorities are supposed to have qualified inspectors for inspecting the premises, sampling of the foods, testing them and ensuring consumer safety on a regular basis. Unfortunately the ground reality that is obtaining in this historical city is indeed shocking. Though the food safety act stipulates a certain number of inspectors and adequate testing facilities this city does not seem to be too much concerned about lack of them to meet the challenge.Passing on the buck seems to be the order of the day. While the civic authorities blame the state administration for neglecting their needs in providing necessary facilities and personnel, latter puts the ball in the court of the center for unclear laws and less than optimal resources allocated to the state. When a pompous Authority called FSSAI was foisted on the states, it was promised that center would provide all the assistance required to implement the new food laws. Unfortunately nothing seems to have changed after the formation of FSSAI which turned out to be a license giving authority, a call back of the old permit - license raj that existed before the economic liberalization started in early nineteen nineties! Here is a take on this sorrow state of affairs vis-vis food safety realities in Hyderabad, though same may apply to all places across the country.   .  

"According to the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2011, the civic body should have at least two inspectors for every circle (one in case of a small circle) to monitor the food quality in hotels and collect samples for examinations. Licences to caterers should only be given after a standard quality test is done, but this regulation is not followed. In 2010, only 45 cases were booked, 54 in 2011, 135 on 2012, 144 in 2013 and 256 in 2014. The number of eateries in the city is more than 20,000.  The civic body, incidentally, does not even have its own laboratory to carry out any of these tests. Instead, it depends on the Institute of Preventive Measures. The Act states the city administration should have adequate number of food safety officers to monitor all food establishments, draw samples for analysis and surveillance, act against unsafe food and ensure that food poisoning or similar problems do not occur. Owing to the staff crunch, the state's food testing laboratory at Nacharam tests just about 500-600 samples in a month collected from the entire state. Less than 200 are from Hyderabad, while the lab can test up to 2,000 to 2,500 samples per month. Officials rue that GHMC has no facilities to check food quality. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 cases related to food quality issues are pending in courts. Some of them have been running for the past 15 years. These cases ensure that the food inspectors are busy attending court proceedings instead of performing their actual duties. As per the rule, hotels violating norms are supposed to be fined and even closed down. There is a separate magistrate's court for these cases. Following the Food Safety Act, the corporation, during inspections, first checks the manner in which the food is cooked (taking samples of the materials used), then the way it is served and stored".

An interesting revelation that must shame all Indians is the long drawn legal cases, numbering about 3000, pending before the courts without any judgment and the time wasted by the food inspectors in dealing with these cases some of them pending for more than 20 years! It appears that there is a collusion between the lawyer community, accused parties and the food inspection personnel to prolong the cases so that indictment can be postponed almost indefinitely under such an arrangement! It is more than 4 years since the food safety act was implemented and if FSSAI could not put in place a satisfactory infrastructural facilities to implement the law, does it justify its existence at all? Are the citizens left to the mercy of petty traders, unorganized food makers and big players of the industry who break every conceivable rule with such impunity for ever with no hope of salvation? Probably the FSSAI as it operates to day needs drastic changes to make the entire system more reliable and accountable. Is the country with a political class with practically no vision about future ready for it? Doubtful! This "no win" situation is bound to continue leaving the consumers at the mercy of manufacturers, traders and hoteliers for a long time to come making citizens turn to God for protecting them and their families from food related dangers every day!


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