Food safety officers lift food samples without making payment, say traders

Will probe and address the issue: Commissioner

SAQIB MALIK
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jun 25 2018 12:44AM | Updated Date: Jun 25 2018 1:40AM
Food safety officers lift food samples without making payment, say tradersRepresentational Pic

Goods worth thousands of rupees are picked up by the field officers of the food safety department for laboratory testing without any payment to the shopkeepers, several traders told Greater Kashmir. The practice is in violation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which makes it mandatory to make payments to traders in lieu of food samples lifted from them for testing. 

When contacted the Commissioner Food Safety Kabir Dar promised a probe into the allegations. “I will enquire into it. And if there is any mischief, action will be taken against the officers,” Dar who has recently taken over the department told Greater Kashmir.  However, he said the department still doesn’t have the “imprest money” to make payments to the traders and in future would make every effort to compensate them.  “It is still a fledgling department with small staff. Our effort is to build it up and ensure that these complaints are addressed promptly and the transparency is ensured.”   

A fruit and dry-fruit merchant based in civil lines of the summer capital said he was “in complete shock” when recently a food safety officer turned down his plea for making payment for samples of exotic dates which the former had collected from his shop. 

“These are imported products with proper pricing and other manufacturing details. If at all these have to be tested we should be handed over proper payment as per the rules. I was in complete disbelief when an official took three boxes of exotic dates and refused to make payment and instead said it would be made later which never happened,” the merchant said.

Similarly, owner of a departmental store said he had to make a hue and cry for getting payment for samples of honey, spices and pickles but to no avail. “I was asked by the inspector to hand over bills for the commodities for which I was told that payments would come to me later. Despite running from pillar to post I have not received the payment yet,” said the trader.

“In the process of bringing transparency the law makers are turning into law breakers. How can they make us run around for payment of the product when the commodity is not even manufactured by us? Often several months after picking up the product we get to hear from these inspectors that the samples collected were contaminated for which we are penalized,” said a retailer. 

“There needs to be a greater transparency whether it is about payments of goods or grounds on which food officers conduct checking. Officials from legal metrology, food safety and food and civil supplies departments visit us to check labeling etc. We should be informed under whose purview does this sort of checking fall under so that only genuine officials can visit our shops,” said another trader.

When contacted, Hilal Mir, assistant commissioner, Food Safety, Srinagar said the provision as per the food safety act for making payments in lieu of samples happens only once the requisition for payment is processed at the food safety office which is a time consuming process. 

“The food safety officers often complain that shopkeepers ask them for on the spot payment which is unlikely as the actual payment is bound to take place only once the bills get processed. The argument put forth by an FSO is that he is not entitled to pay from his own pocket,” Mir said.

“Often the payments don’t reach the shopkeeper as there is a procedural delay and sometimes the clerical staff at our office finds technical problems with the bills such as lack of proper stamp and name of the shop which becomes a reason for payment being declined,” Mir said adding he has taken up the issue of non-payment for shopkeepers with the higher-ups in the food safety department. 

“We hope to soon have a provision where traders don’t suffer and get their payments on time,” Mir said.  When asked why retailers are penalised for contaminated commodities which are not manufactured from them, Mir said “there are some provisions of the act which make both manufacturer and retailer responsible for any violation”.

Even as officials of food safety department continue collecting random samples of commodities from various markets in order to get them tested in labs, an expert two-member panel from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had last year informed the High Court that state’s food testing laboratories are not functioning to provide desired results. 

The expert report had revealed that in both labs in the state-- Public Health Lab Patoli, Jammu and Public Health Lab, Dalgate — do not carry out any tests for contaminant such pesticide residues, heavy metals, veterinary drug residues, crop contaminants and naturally occurring toxic substances. 

The report had further unveiled that a wide spectrum of food categories listed in the Food Safety and Standard Rules (FSS) and regulations, are tested, but the testing parameters are limited. 

“The two labs, the report indicates, have inadequate equipment which includes electronic balance, muffle furnace, butyro-refractometer and tintometer.  The current analytical facilities and chemical testing capabilities of the labs do not fulfil the requirements of the FSS act and rules” stated the report.

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