Despite directions from JK High Court the gross manpower shortage for food testing in the State Drug and Food Control Organization (DFCO) has not been addressed, resulting in most food samples requiring advanced tests being sent to outside laboratories.
Even though the department has ordered equipment worth crores, the machinery is set to remain unused for want of technicians.
The 16 posts of Food Safety Officers, two posts of Assistant Food Commissioners and six posts of Assistant Food Analysts have not been filled, despite court directions to the government to make the Food Testing Laboratories in state "functional".
While the DFCO asserted that most of the posts had been referred to the recruiting agencies, it said some posts could not be referred due to "lack of clarity" in recruitment process.
"We are working on a few posts, such as those of Food Analysts. Some of these have to be filled on promotional basis and a few are to be directly recruited. But it will be sorted out soon," said Controller D&FCO Lotika Khajuria.
She added that other posts stood referred and she was not in a position to comment on the progress of their filling up by the recruitment agencies.
While JK Service Selection Board (SSB) advertised 16 posts of Food Safety Officers in November 2016, the selection process is far from complete yet.
The Chairperson, SSB, Sarita Chauhan, said the board was trying its best to complete all recruitment processes in time. "For five months, we were not able to conduct any examinations, or advertise posts because aspirants did not have access to internet," she said.
She added that SSB recruited 2000 personnel in two months and DFCO vacancies would also be filled in "due course of time".
Though the posts of Assistant Commissioner Food Safety had been advertised by Public Service Commission (PSC) in April 2016, they are still lying vacant.
"We have written to State Health Department for prescribing the syllabus for conducting the examination for the posts. We are waiting for their response," said PSC Chairman Latief-ul-Zamaan Deva.
In November 2016, the High Court had reprimanded the government on their tardiness towards filling of technical and non technical posts in DFCO for Food Safety and had sought compliance to the orders.
Pertinent to mention that DFCO has placed orders for food testing equipment worth Rs 6.75 crores through JKMSCL. Consequent upon directions for expediting the process of procurement of food testing paraphernalia in state, JKMSCL recently stated that "most" equipment would be available by February 2017.
A senior official in Health and Medical Education Department however expressed anguish over the delay in putting the requisite technical and ground staff in position and said mere equipment could not ensure safe food items in state.
"Will the equipment run on its own? What is the use of state-of-art machinery if we do not have trained professional to run tests on them?" he said. He added that there was "dearth of hands" in fields also and "a few" officers were not able to cater to the ever expanding scope of work for ensuring food safety.
In March this year, Greater Kashmir had reported the gross shortage of manpower in Kashmir's lone Food Testing laboratory. "In addition to the posts of technicians, posts of Public Analyst, Senior Lab Technician and half of Non-technical positions are also lying vacant," the report had highlighted following which the court had taken Suo-Moto cognizance of the issue concerning public health.