Jurisdiction: 625 sq. km. Population: 78 lakh plus. Eateries: 20,000 plus. And the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has just four officers to ensure food safety under its jurisdiction.
Under the Food Safety & Standards Act, 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 such episodes do not occur.
However, against a team of officials with the required assisting staff and other paraphernalia, the GHMC has just four officers. According to Corporation estimates, there are more than 20,000 eateries of varying scope, from roadside pushcart vendors to star hotels. Add to them, other facilities such as school and college hostel canteens, working men and women hostels and canteens at government offices, and the list goes on.
“We are expected to monitor all these facilities and ensure that food and water are proper, that there is no contamination or poisoning, that kitchens and serving areas are clean and hygienic, and that no stale food is being dished out,” says a senior official.
He asks, “Yes, we have to do all of this. But can only four officials with little or no support staff do it?”
The Corporation has been looking forward to having more food safety officers on its rolls. It was also decided to have an officer each for its 18 circles. Even staff strengthening seems a distant possibility, say senior officials.
“It might take a year, two years or more also. We do not know,” says a health and sanitation wing official.
The shortage of staff is obvious from the fact that though the city has such a large number of eateries, Food Inspectors could book only 45 cases in 2010, 54 in 2011 and 135 in 2012. Additional Commissioner (Health & Sanitation) L.Vandan Kumar concedes staff shortage and says that the Corporation is hoping to get 18 Circle-wise officers soon.
“For now, we are focusing on areas with heavy concentration of eateries. Weekly targets are given to our officers, and review held at the weekend,” he says.
Canteens at school and college hostels have been listed out for inspection next week.
“We have some complaints, and we intend acting on them,” Mr. Kumar says.
Incidentally, the civic administration of a happening city like Hyderabad does not even have a laboratory of its own to test food samples collected during raids, forcing it to depend on other institutions.