Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association threatens indefinite strike

Stepping up vigil against the rampant sale of stale food across the State, Food Safety Commissioner for Kerala Biju Prabhakar has said that the intensified drive will continue till the hotels and restaurants comply with the 30-point guidelines issued to ensure the quality of food items sold by them.

“We have formed ten squads and at least eight of them will be on the field at any given time after adjusting leaves and holidays of squad members. They will conduct raids everyday in eight towns across the State simultaneously. They (hoteliers) can comply with guidelines and continue with their business or else it will be a question of whether they should close down the firms on their own or we should do it for them,” Mr. Prabhakar told The Hindu on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA) has threatened to go on an indefinite strike by closing down eateries unless various agencies put an end to what they perceive as victimisation of the industry.

KHRA State general secretary Jose Mohan said that the association representatives will meet the Chief Minister, Health Minister, and Food Safety Commissioner next week with a three-point agenda. “The raids should be conducted in compliance with the FSS Act (Food Safety and Standards), the government should make clear the competent authority authorised to undertake raids, and stop closing down hotels without giving a notice period to rectify and improve the shortcomings,” he said.

The association, he said, will go for the extreme step of indefinite strike by closing down hotels if these demands are not met. He complained that now multiple agencies including local bodies, Health authorities, and food safety officials were conducting raids in hotels.

Mr. Prabhakar, however, clarified that Food Safety officials are the sole authority to take action related to the quality of any food items or food outlet operators. “Hoteliers can easily approach the court about their complaint of raids by multiple agencies,” he said.

Since the local bodies are a licensing authority under the Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, they can at best look in to aspects like hygiene while the Health inspectors have no authority whatsoever to intervene in matters related to food items.

On the association’s contention that advance notice should be served before the raid and 15-days notice period to rectify anomalies before ordering closure of hotels, Mr. Prabhakar said that such a protocol is usually followed in normal circumstances and not in extraordinary situations like the present one involving the death of a youngster attributed to low quality food. He said that food safety officials have not resorted to highhandedness during raids and have even videographed the entire operation.

Mr. Prabhakar said that the deadline for acquiring food safety license under the FSS Act cannot be extended from August 4 unless so decided by the Union government under a statute. “It’s an Act passed by the Parliament and we can do nothing about extension. Firms operating without the food safety license will be fined from August 5,” he said.

Mr. Mohan said that an extension of six months during which the authorities pointed out the deficiencies to be plugged would have been ideal for small and medium operators.

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