Whether one is amused or impressed by the recent proposal by the Delhi government to enhance punishments for the crimes against citizens perpetrated by the food manufacturers and traders depends on how serious one takes the present government in the saddle there. Though this is an admirable proposal, ground reality says that taking action against these criminals in not that easy under the Indian constitution. Majority of the so called food inspectors have doubtful credentials and credibility vis-a-vis their character and integrity and an average citizen must be pardoned if he thinks that such stringent laws in the statute book can only increase the bribe amounts, making them richer much faster! Of course these are only apprehensions and the good intentions of the government may still get translated into much needed relief to the common man from these heinous criminals. One thing is sure that unless the number and frequency of sampling are increased manifold and the judicial system is strengthened, nothing much will come out of this exercise. Let us give some time for the government to work out the logistics before passing any judgment one way or the other.
"In extreme cases where adulteration could lead to death, Delhi Government has proposed imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend up to imprisonment for life and also with fine which shall not be less than Rs 20 lakh," the government said in a statement. As per exiting rule, in such cases, imprisonment is not less than seven years but which may extend up to life imprisonment and fine which shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh. The government has also proposed to increase penalty from existing Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for unhygienic or unsanitary processing or manufacturing of food. An official said it has also been decided that with the enhancement of penalty, the transparency aspect should be strengthened and the prosecution process should be made speedy and time-bound including by setting up of special courts, for which provision exists in the act. The official said that a person, involved in such adulteration which is not injurious to health, will have to face imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 5 lakh or both. "Besides, where such adulterant is injurious to health, imprisonment will not be less than five years which may extend up to life imprisonment or with fine which may extend to Rs 10 lakh rupees, or both," the official said. According to the government, penalty for misleading advertisement will be Rs 10 lakh or thrice the cost of the advertisement whichever is more. "As per the proposal, for the purpose of adjudication under this Act, an officer not below the rank of Additional District Magistrate or Metropolitan Magistrate of the district where the alleged offence is committed, shall be notified by the State Government as the Adjudicating Officer for adjudication in the manner as may be prescribed by the central government," the government said.
Food dealers in this country are a wily lot capable of doing any thing including the "Houdini" act to delay justice or demolish cases through hook or crook making governments look foolish and powerless. While paying regular "haftha" to food inspectors for not checking their samples or giving good samples for testing purpose to boost the statistics or destroying the samples at the lab level or in the courts are routinely practiced. Using such harsh punishment threats, extortion also is possible to increase the "haftha" rate! One may ask why this pessimism on a good intentioned policy pronouncement by the government? Answer is simple. Indians are Indians and their attitude, behavior, respect for law, civic sense, moral responsibility etc are debatable with very few bothered about things beyond their immediate families! Only some genuine NGOs are fighting this food adulteration battle but they are far and few to make any dent on the scale of corruption and insensitivity prevalent among politicians and bureaucrats in this country.. Let us hope Delhi government will succeed where others have miserably failed the people of India.