Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have bluntly ignored pleas for increasing manpower or augmenting infrastructure at Kashmir's Food Testing Laboratory to curb the menace of food adulteration in the state.
A letter dated May 20, 2009 vide No. PFAK/Estb/32—addressed to Controller Food and Drugs J&K from Public Analyst Kashmir—reads: "The undersigned is not in a position to withstand heavy load of (food) samples…The technical staff at present in this laboratory is one public analyst and one laboratory assistant, besides the office staff which is completely against the prevention of Food Adulteration Act and its Rules."
Five years later, another communication vide No. PA/K/Acct/2014/319-321 dated March 13, 2014 reads: "Matter regarding manpower and equipment in Public Health Laboratory Kashmir be taken up on priority as health of people is at stake."
The letter also gives reference to six letters on the issue directed to Commissioner Food Safety and to other officers, including Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, in a span of five years.
Over the years, the Food Safety and Standards Act has been confined to papers only, with successive state government turning a blind eye towards acute shortage of staff and equipment at the Laboratory which is in turn resulting in compromise with health of people and exposing them to foods that are adulterated and contaminated with dangerous chemicals, even including carcinogens.
In February 2014—and also in March 2014—a number of directions were passed to Food Safety Department by the J&K High Court to improve the manpower and equipment scenario, and ensure safety of edibles. One of these directions, passed March 24, 2014 in a Public Interest Litigation reads: 'Respondents (State of J&K and others) shall initiate process to fill up various posts provided under the Act (FSSA 2006), vacant as on date and file status report regarding state of selection process.' Similar directions had been passed in November 2013.
On February 4, 2014, the Supreme Court in case 3526/2014 (arising out of above PIL 01/2012) noted that "implementation of the provisions of the Act (FSSA 2006) in Jammu and Kashmir has been somewhat tardy." The apex court directed that "J&K will file a report before this court with regard to the state of implementation of the provisions of the Act including the manpower available to ensure such implementation.'
While the State did file compliance report, it reportedly gave an ambiguous status of the issue. "A meeting was convened under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary of the State and the posts of Assistant Commissioner Food Safety created vide government order no. 200-HME of 2013 dated 25-03-2013 were got filled on officiating basis by placing the eligible food inspectors (Food Safety Officers) incharge of these posts…"
There was no addition of manpower but reshuffling and renaming was flaunted as an achievement, an official said.
The Compliance Report submitted also states that a "proposal for strengthening and upgradation of food testing laboratories is under consideration of the government. And a proposal for strengthening of Food Safety Organization in the state is under active consideration."
However, the ground situation has remained unchanged. Out 16 sanctioned posts of Technical Staff at Srinagar Food laboratory, 13 are vacant. Out eight sanctioned administrative staff positions, four are vacant.
There is no equipment to test residual pesticides, residual antibiotics and toxic metals; there is no spectrophotometer for detection of coloring agents, no equipment for detection of microbes, pathogens or even synthetic milk.
"There has been complete disregard to Food Safety, blatant contempt to court directions," a senior healthcare expert said.