Paucity of staff hits food safety ‘mission’ in Kashmir

34 of 106 posts of food safety officers vacant

ZEHRU NISSA
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jun 19 2017 1:55AM | Updated Date: Jun 19 2017 1:55AM
Paucity of staff hits food safety ‘mission’ in Kashmir

Against 106 sanctioned positions of food safety officers (FSO) for Jammu and Kashmir, at least 34 posts are vacant, most of them in rural areas, making food items in the market go unchecked.

Officials told Greater Kashmir that while this manpower shortage impacts food quality checks and mechanisms, most of 72 FSOs in position are posted in urban Kashmir.

A source said the strength of these executive officers was less than 25 for entire Kashmir division which is spread over 12 districts. This meager strength of FSOs is mandated to keep a vigil on quality and safety of food business across the Valley despite the fact that each block should have one designated FSO as per the Food Safety and Standards Regulations.

Owing to paucity of manpower at the food testing laboratory (FSL), five FSOs were moved there to augment staff shortage.

The shortage of FSOs is more visible in vast rural expanses of Kashmir.

As per documents accessed by Greater Kashmir, three Valley districts do not any food safety officer while there are districts where the entire food market is under the supervision of one or two officials.

Districts like Leh and Kargil and Bandipora have no FSO, leaving the entire food market there unchecked.

In other districts of the Valley, the scenario is no better.

In Kupwara, which has eight blocks, only one FSO is available, leaving its seven blocks without any food safety official. In Kulgam district, one FSO is available for six blocks. In district Anantnag, three FSOs are available for seven blocks while in Baramulla’s six blocks, three FSOs are in position. In Ganderbal, for three blocks, one FSO is posted.

As per Food Safety and Standards Act of India (FSSAI), it is the mandate of the FSO to inspect, sample and take action against the violators of food safety laws.

But, an official said, due to shortage of manpower, most food market in these districts, especially areas out of municipal limits, were not being checked at all for quality and safety.

“How it is possible for one FSO to carry out visits to an entire district?” the official asked.

He said the health of rural masses was being put to risk as “most unhygienic packed and unsafe foods” were being sold in these areas.

He said the density of field staff was comparatively better in urban areas. In district Srinagar, for five zones, five FSOs are in position. In Budgam, five FSOs work for eight blocks.

Over the years, the government has failed to address the gross shortage of FSOs in J&K. Even after directions of the High Court which in the past one year has passed many orders to state government to expedite recruitment of manpower for ensuring food safety, the issue remains unaddressed.

Controller Drug and Food Control Organization, Lotika Khajuria agreed that shortage of FSOs was “a grave issue” but expressed her helplessness over the matter. “What can I do in this regard but wait for recruiting agencies to hire manpower for us?” she said.

In March last year, Greater Kashmir had carried a series of reports about status of food safety in Kashmir following which High Court took suo-moto cognizance of the issue concerning public health.