JAMMU: Safety of food and eatable items served by various food business operators (FBO) as well as street vendors is at the mercy of God in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir as the data furnished by Food Safety wing of Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), Jammu in response to a RTI query, shows lackadaisical approach of concerned department towards a crucial matter involving life and death of the citizens.
The critical analysis of the data gains more significance amidst recent castigating remarks of Supreme Court against functioning of food and drugs control organization. Dismissing plea of J&K government against the NHRC order on compensation of 12 infant death at Ramnagar in Udhampur district due to spurious cough syrup, division bench of SC comprising Justice M R Shah and Justice M M Sindresh said “Your officers are found to be negligent and they don’t perform their duties at all. Don’t compel us to say things about food and industry department. The health of the citizens is in their hands and it is their duty to check and verify things”.
Sharing information in response to RTI application of renowned social activist Prof S K Bhalla, the FDA stated that none of the Food and Business Organization (FBO) in Jammu division was sealed in the last three years for operating in flagrant violation of FSSAI guidelines.
In contradiction to large number of FBO running in every nook and corner of Jammu division under shabby conditions and serving unsafe food, the dismal penalties imposed against violators speaks volume about pathetic working pattern of field staff of FDA.
For the period between 2000 and September 2022, the FDA penalized only 260 shopkeepers falling under the jurisdiction of Jammu Municipal Corporation areas whereas 232 food outlets were penalized in Jammu (Rural). , the RTI information reveals that in last three years only 20, 29, 32, 39, 44, 71, 72, and 90 numbers of eateries were penalized in Samba, Kishtwar, Poonch, Udhampur, Doda, Reasi, Rajouri and Kathua respectively.
The designated food safety officer of Ramban -a district known to be headed by most efficient District Magistrate prefers not to furnish data on the matter and the concerned DM need to dig deep into the mess prevailing in the district over sale of sub-standard and unsafe food items for consumption of people in the area.
It is the job of regularity authorities to frequently keep checking the business units engaged in sale and processing of eatables items to ensure strict compliance of food safety norms. However, the ground realities is that under operation quid pro quo most of the shops dealing in milk, sweet bakery, bar and restaurants, cafeteria, and dhabas are running in flagrant violation of FSSAI norms jeopardizing the health of citizens, opined Prof. Bhalla.
Even the FDA is lagging behind in educating consumers as well as food outlet operators through information, education and communication (IEC) activities to help prevent, detect and adopt measures for sale of healthy and hygienic food items for human consumptions.
Data of IEC activities in Jammu division conducted by FDA in last 3 years includes Jammu Urban 43, Jammu Rural 22, Samba 26, Kathua 38, Rajouri 44, Poonch 0, Udhampur 21 and Reasi 22 whereas Kishtwar and Doda are the only two districts which managed to cross century mark by conducting 105 and 197 IEC activities respectively in 3 years.
Similarly data pertaining to lifting of food and samples found non conformance is also not plausible given consideration to the fact that majority of food outlets especially street vendors never adhere to food safety norms and are serving food which are causing food borne diseases without being noticed by citizens.
“If the quality of food served in Jammu’s prominent clubs and hotels is questionable then imagine the condition of restaurant and dhabas especially their kitchens, said a noted critic and social activist-Rajeshwar Singh Jamwal. This deplorable scenario of food outlets exposed the look busy and do nothing modus operandi of food inspectors (FSI) of Food Safety wing of FDA. The government should access performance of FSIs and scrutinize their working especially the credibility of data they submitted on MoM basis for, he further said adding “Strangely, the FDA, Jammu is the lone government department which is shy of showcasing their work in media pertaining to action against food outlets for obvious reasons”
Safe food attributes to good health of consumers besides contributes to economic prosperity as well as sustainable development of a nation. The United Nation reports on food safety says that an estimated 650 million people each year fall sick from eating contaminated and adulterated food and nearly 4,50,000 of them die around the world especially the developing countries.
The problem of adulteration makes the food items used in our daily life unsafe and causes tremendous effect on health with serious ailments like cancer, diarrhoea, asthma, ulcers without our knowledge, revealed Dr. Zahid. “There is an exponential rise in cases of malignancies among consumers in J&K especially valley due to consumption of spurious and adulterated food items which a common man cannot figure out”, he said.
It is interesting to note that in the recent past sale of spurious TATA salt in Doda region, counterfeit Verka Ghee as well as sub standard duplicate P mark Mustard oil in J&K hog limelight which were exposed by either vigilant citizens or traders. This can be detected earlier had the food safety officers of FDA performed their job with honesty and dedication, avers Prof. Bhalla.