Food Safety: SC pulls JK over tardy implementation of FSA
SMC, CAPD, FCO lock horns to establish their writ
In spite of the Supreme Court directions over the implementation of Food Safety Act in JK, the state government has failed to specify the department that has the mandate to ensure food safety here.
In February last year, the Supreme Court had pulled up the state government over what it called ‘tardy implementation’ of Food Safety Act and directed the Health and Medical Education Department to strictly implement it.
Although the apex court in its order of February, 2015 in the PIL ( 01/2012) had sought a ‘compliance report’ from the state government, the implementation of Food Safety Act in the state is not being implemented on the ground.
Earlier this month, the government constituted two Food Safety Appellate Tribunals under Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 to ensure food safety law implementation. The Health and Medical Education Department, under whose ambit Food Safety falls, has promised SC that it would ‘abide by its directions in letter and spirit’. However there seems to be lack of clarity on food safety provisions in the state.
While the Food Safety Act 2006 mandates the Food Control Organization (FCO) to be solely responsible for the quality of food being served at outlets such as restaurants, vendors and canteens, the organization has failed to take the control. On the contrary departments such as Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Department of Legal Metrology and District Administrations are seen carrying out sporadic ‘drives’, issuing token fines, destroying eatables deemed of inferior quality and sending press notes to media. One such drive that was carried out recently in Srinagar in which SMC officials issued a press statement of having recovered Rs. 19700/ from food business operators who as per the reports of the special squad were selling food in ‘unhygienic and unsafe manner’.
When Greater Kashmir contacted a SMC official to know as to why the Corporation takes the responsibility of Food Safety as and when it pleases, the official denied any role in the business of Food Safety. “It is not our job. We have been de-notified in 2014 and can no more check food items’ quality,” Dr Sameena Maqbool, Health Officer SMC said.
She added that the drive was a special one and involved members from various government departments. Sources however said, “No food sample was lifted repeatedly for testing in the special drive, and the action taken such as destruction of property and eatables was ‘illegal’ as per the provisions of the Act.”
“A food operator who is found to be using unsafe chemicals and dyes is to be prosecuted under the law if the samples of his food are found to contain these harmful chemicals,” said an official of Food Safety Organization. “Officials cannot destroy food items that they think contain dyes and let the person go,” he added.
Similarly, the official said, for unhygienic conditions, the organization has to serve improvement notice to the food operators and if the improvement notice is not heeded to, the license of the food business operator may be cancelled.
However, food business operators have alleged that officials from a multiple agencies barge into the shops and food establishments and demand fees for various ‘offences’. “We sometimes have no other choice than to give whatever is demanded because we do not want a scene in our restaurant,” said a Lal Chowk restaurant owner who wished anonymity. He said that he had no idea who the Food Organization was and had always seen ‘new faces from government department’.
SMC authorities however, agreed that there is confusion among masses about who to approach regarding food safety grievances and complaints. “We still have people reporting at SMC with milk samples,” Dr Maqbool said.
“We are doing everything we can. In a few months, we have tested and issued challan to more food establishments than ever were. And we are tightening the noose around violators,” Hilal Mir, Assistant Food Commissioner Kashmir said.