BENGALURU: Most of us have at some point dug our teeth into the famous Tirupati laddus. And we rarely think twice before popping them into our mouths, because saying no to prasadam is unheard of. But how safe are these laddus? Reports over the years have highlighted how things such as nuts, bolts, keychains and even pan parag covers have been found in these laddus, and most recently – about a fortnight back – a large chunk of charcoal was found in one.
Bengaluru-based activist T Narasimha Murthy filed a petition to the chairperson of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in Delhi demanding that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) should either acquire the necessary lincence to operate as a food business or the temple will have to mend its way of operation. He says, “The TTD finally got a licence to make laddus.”
No uniforms or gloves
About a year and a half ago, Murthy filed Right to Information (RTI) to inquire whether TTD (which is the governing body of the Sri Venkateswara Temple) was operating with a food safety lincence. Subsequently, reminders were sent to the TTD by the FSSAI even as recently as June this year asking them to comply with the norms laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. In his petition, Murthy claimed that unsafe and unhygienic methods were being used while making laddus. “Apart from not having a lincence for making and selling approximately 20 tonnes of laddus a day, there are issues such as non-issuance of bills, plastic packaging, and of course, people in the kitchen are half naked, sweating, and don't wear uniforms, hair nets, gloves or masks,” says Murthy. He adds that the date of manufacture, expiration and ingredients in the laddus should be clearly mentioned as well.
‘Prasadam can’t be termed as goods’
In September last year, the then TTD executive officer had written back to the FSSAI stating that the laddus that were being distributed among pilgrims cannot be termed as food. It was also claimed in a statement that the laddus were being distributed free of cost in other counters, despite them
being priced at `10 to `25 each. It was further claimed that as the laddus were not made for profit, it cannot be viewed as ‘goods’. “Prasadams of respective Hindu temples will be prepared as per the respective traditional customs, but shall not be intervened under the pretext of FSSAI or CST acts that demean the religious feelings of crores of Hindu pilgrims,” the executive officer had said back then. Another rule that they were flouting was the yearly inspection of the kitchens by FSSAI officials, which TTD claimed they cannot allow as the ‘potu’ is an auspicious place where outsiders cannot enter.
In October last year, the FSSAI had retorted to this ‘laddu not food’ claim, by saying, “Food means any substance whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended for human consumption except categories like drugs, cosmetics or psychotropic substances. Therefore, laddu that is presented as prasadam at a temple is food.”“30 lakh temple in India do not adhere to food safety standards”