Manpower shortage affecting enforcement of food safety laws

Public health hazard: The lax implementation of the rules has resulted in poor conviction in cases where tests have shown that food items were not conforming to norms.

Public health hazard: The lax implementation of the rules has resulted in poor conviction in cases where tests have shown that food items were not conforming to norms.   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

Several vacancies in the Food Safety Department not filled; absence of vehicles is also affecting random collection of samples from the market

An acute shortage of manpower has crippled the functioning of the Food Safety Department in Puducherry. Most senior posts in the department, including those of the Food Safety Officers, have been vacant for several years and the department has been running the show by assigning work to the existing officials.

As against the sanctioned strength of eight, the department has only two Food Safety Officers.

According to sources in the department, “the two officers have to look after all the 23 constituencies in Puducherry, which is practically impossible.

“The manpower shortage has crippled the functioning of the department at a time when it is battling a host of public health issues, including food adulteration. In addition, the department has no Ministerial staff on its rolls and all the posts, including those of Superintendent and multi-tasking staff, remain vacant.”

An official, on condition of anonymity, pointed out that there had been no permanent replacement for the staff who retired, were transferred or resigned all these years.

The problem arose after the nomenclature was changed from Food Inspectors to Food Safety Officers. Although the pay scale alone changed, there had been no sanction. The department had raised this issue several times with the State government and the Centre. But, there had been no response, he said.

The department does not have its own vehicle and the two Food Safety Officers use their own vehicles to reach places on time.

This has affected the collection of samples and there has been no follow-up against companies which sell substandard and unsafe food items in the market.

Poor conviction rate

The enforcement of the Food Safety Act is lax if the statistics provided by the Centre to a question raised by Villupuram Member of Parliament D. Ravikumar is any indication.

Statistics of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reveal that not even a single case of food adulteration was registered under FSSAI Act, 2006 in Puducherry. Similarly, not a single conviction has been secured during the period.

While the enforcement of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, primarily lies with the States and Union Territories, inadequate manpower for regulatory work and laboratory infrastructure has resulted in poor enforcement in Puducherry.

During 2018-19, 2,037 samples were analysed in Puducherry. Of them, 39 were found to be non-conforming. While penalties were imposed in just seven cases, not a single case was booked or conviction obtained. On the other hand, out of 5,730 samples tested in Tamil Nadu, 2,601 were found to be non-conforming. As many as 666 and 1,718 cases were booked under civil and criminal laws and of them 306 ended in conviction.

MP concerned

But what is surprising and perplexing is that when Tamil Nadu has registered 2,384 cases, the figure for Puducherry presents a dismal picture.

Mr. Ravikumar pointed out that while the department had been conducting routine inspections, not even a single case ended in conviction.

“This is very strange and not acceptable as several samples in Puducherry were found to be non-conforming. The authorities must wake up to the situation and ensure that Food Safety Act is implemented strictly in Puducherry,” he said.

“Hygienic environment should be ensured in places where food is cooked and sold to the public. In Puducherry, one can come across a number of eateries dotting the streets. There are places where open air cooking takes place, which will only repel the onlookers. Effective monitoring and inspection should be done as per the provisions of the Food Safety Act. There is no point in making a hue and cry without initiating any steps to nip the problem in the bud,” said S. Nadarajan, a senior citizen.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 9:11:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/manpower-shortage-affecting-enforcement-of-food-safety-laws/article30837529.ece

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