NEW DELHI: A leading fast food chain recently shut several of its outlets in north and west India citing safety concerns. A leading brand of noodles has been in the dock over failed safety tests in the recent past.
When awareness about health and food safety is on the rise, the number of convictions in the national capital under the Food Safety and Standards Act has gone up by a huge 106 per cent.
In 2016-2017, 1,155 samples were collected by the Department of Food Safety. Of the 1,152 samples analysed, 120 were adulterated or misbranded. A total 107 cases—98 civil and nine criminal—were registered against the culprits, of which 106 were convicted. The department had registered 149 and 151 cases in 2015-16 and 2014-15, respectively, but no convictions had taken place.
“To curb food adulteration, regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and sampling of food products is being done by officials of Food Safety Departments to check compliance of the standards laid down under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. In cases where the food samples are found to be non-conforming, recourse is taken to penal provisions under the FSS Act,” Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, recently told Parliament.
In terms of penalties collected, `37.41 lakh was collected in Delhi in 2016-17 as against `44.82 lakh in 2015-16, a drop of 16.5 per cent.
“Sometimes it so happens that the manufacturers are let off only with a fine. There is no conviction per se,” an official explained.
Food safety experts attribute the rise of convictions to awareness among people. “As people are more aware now, they are willing to go to consumer courts over discrepancies. Hence, the authorities are forced to conduct regular and accurate analyses,” said Rachna Arora, an activist with NGO India for Safe Food.
Amit Khurana, director of food toxins programme at the Centre of Science and Environment, said the rise in convictions was “a good sign”. “It will push food manufacturers and advertisers to ensure safety of their products.”
“I am happy that the convictions have gone up. It is better to buy raw products and cook them,” said Shankar Sharma, 68. But Suhana Malik, 28, said, “Both I and my husband work. It is not possible for us to cook everyday and we rely on packaged food. I am glad about the convictions , but I would be happier if authorities ensure safety of food products while keeping the prices in check,” she said.
The highest number of cases registered and convictions were recorded from Uttar Pradesh. There were 1,273 convictions from the 5,663 adulterated samples found, taking the conviction rate to 23.8 per cent.