High Court asks officials hire staff for food testing labs in 4 months
Taking a stern note of the failure of the Food Safety Department to recruit staff for the two food testing laboratories in Jammu and Kashmir, the High Court on Wednesday directed commissioner food safety as well as commissioner secretary administrative reforms, inspections and trainings department to be present in the court if they don't succeed in filling up the positions in the next four months.
A division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur issued the direction after the bench was informed that Rs 18 Cr have been spent in creating state-of-the-art Food Testing Public laboratories at Srinagar and Jammu but no man power is available to run the laboratories.
Sanjeev Kumar assistant controller food in the office commissioner food safety informed the court that some important posts including lab technicians and instrumentation technicians have not been filled up which makes these labs non-functional.
Senior advocate Bashir Ahmad Bashir who assists as amicus curie told the court that seven mobile food testing vans were got from Gujarat against crores of rupees but these serve no purpose. "The vans have no drivers, no technicians. People are made to consume poison," Bashir told the court. In response to the submissions, the court said in case the process of recruitment for any post has not been initiated yet, the concerned authorities shall issue the advertisement notice and complete receipt of applications within three weeks. It said the process of selection shall be completed within four weeks. While the court was informed that the recruitment process for the vacant posts could not be initiated for the reason that a proposal for modification to recruitment rules was pending with ARI Training department, the court asked commissioner secretary of the department to settle the matter within a week.
Meanwhile the court sought an affidavit from the government indicating the number of posts created for manning the food laboratories and mobile vans. With regard to the issue of sealing powers, Hilal Ahmad Mir, assistant commissioner food safety Srinagar submitted that the enforcement officers can seal any premises in the interest of public health where the manufactured food appears to be unsafe for human consumption.
The court asked the Food Safety authorities to furnish a copy of Food Safety and Standard Act 2006 and rules of 2011 and explain the sealing power, the Act provides for. In 2016, the High Court had taken suo-moto cognizance of news reports published in Greater Kashmir on food adulteration and rising cancer incidence and treated these as a Public Interest Litigation.
Greater Kashmir stories highlighted that there was no scientific mechanism in place to test foods in Kashmir markets, including oil and milk. Some of these news stories referred to lack of facilities for cancer patients in Kashmir hospitals—including the facilities like PET-CT Scan—which is forcing many of them to go outside the state for treatment.
The reports highlighted lack of infrastructure and manpower at the Valley's lone Food Testing Laboratory in Srinagar, and also the acute lack of treatment and diagnostic facilities for cancer patients, especially at the SK Institute of Medical Sciences and GMC associated hospitals.