Tuesday, May 29, 2012


In spite of the super power tag in the world landscape, assiduosly being sought after by India, the ground realities that exist in the country speak a different story. Patriotism is an inbuilt trait generated from early childhood and is supposed to be fostered at the schools through right education but it cannot be demanded by a government which does not respect the citizen or does things which do not inspire self respect and pride of being the citizen of that country. India is precisely at this juncture to day with kids and youngsters not knowing fully the culture, tradition and past history of this once great country. The basic human quality of compassion and fellowship is fast dwindling and the frenetic urbanization that is taking place is creating a people with indifference, selfishness and inhuman qualities. Many people may not agree with such a portrait of this country while many others will swear by this assertion.

Series of financial scams that shook the country recently are shaking the very foundation of the moral and ethical values cherished by a honest society and it is all the more shocking that those in power are in a denial mode, refusing to recognize the deteriorating atmosphere in the country not conducive to transparent, honest and peaceful living any more. Be it the judicial system, political set up, the fourth estate or the armed forces, no one seems to be acquitting themselves creditably before the people's court. It is the perception among the masses that country's resources are being looted or squandered with very little benefit flowing to the so called "aam aadmi". In the food front inflation is gnawing at the very existence of poor people unable to keep up with rising prices and it is naive to blame the condition to globalization, openly welcomed by the country two decades ago. While Indian citizens are willing to pay international prices to buy the essential needs, will the government ensure that they get incomes comparable to citizens in wealthy countries? 

The brand new food safety regulations, ushered in after 5 years of "incubation" does not seem to have done even a wee bit to rein in food adulteration exposing the citizens to the dangers posed by the flourishing food frauds industry! Neither the infrastructure nor the determination to tackle this menace is evident in any part of the country and "merry go around" of the food adulterators is continuing with impunity. Added to this, the ill-drafted Food Safety Act is being challenged by some "money hungry" food industry groups in the judicial courts rendering many provisions inoperative, at least for the time being. The proud fact that more than 90% of retail trade and 75% of processing taking place in the unorganized and small sector is turning out to be a nightmare for the consumers as many of the products turned out by them rarely conform to food safety laws. The state machinery for safety vigilance is woefully inadequate and fraudsters get away by default. 

In one of the reports emanating from Delhi it was said that each and every day,what "hundreds of wholesale traders at Delhi's Azadpur Mandi, a sprawling, chaotic market where trucks blare Bollywood music, porters haul huge brown sacks of fruit and vegetables and hawkers ply tea and cigarettes" are doing, can put any body to shame. Fruits are laced with calcium carbide. for ripening before selling to thousands of unsuspecting customers and the traders do not seem to feel any guilt in doing it because it has become a habit with them since long, going on unchecked or unchallenged by safety authorities. They are least concerned that ripening of fruits with carbide can be dangerous to consumers despite being told that it causes cancer. Probably it may be a simple calculation or common sense that they have neither heard nor seen any body dying of eating fruits ripened with carbide! Added to this they are bewildered by so much noise being made by people about what they are doing and on top of this they have to pay bribes to all and sundry to keep their business running!.

If one talks to food safety officials, they have their own story. Many of them are not well conversant with basics of food safety and are not convinced that what is being done by the trade is some thing dangerous. They agree that use of carbide is banned by FSSAI, but from a practical point of view empathize with the trade because fruits arriving from distant places in raw condition require to be made market ready by controlled ripening and the present practice of carbide ripening is the only method they know about. The traditional practice of smoke ripening or the modern etheral ripening technology does not seem to be ringing any bells in their head due to ignorance or convenience!  Similarly lacing sweets with dangerous non-permitted artificial colors or adulterating high value spices with a variety of unsafe substances or mixing cheap oils with costly ones or tampering with genuine ghee goes on with no fear about retribution. It is a shame to hear the country's premier safety enforcement body at Delhi announcing from the roof top that milk adulteration is rampant in many states and blaming the state agencies for this sorry state of affairs!. The ingenuity of adulterators is truly amazing and India may be the only country in the world "producing" milk without a cow or a buffalo! The fraudsters' milk, sold widely in many parts of the country, is simply a white colored concoction made from a blend of palm oil, detergent, urea and other ingredients and it is intriguing as to how people are accepting such products readily. 

FSSAI is a new body created to shoulder the task of safeguarding the health of consumer from adulterators and economic fraudsters but it is hampered by sub-critical number of qualified and experienced personnel. Ideally for a population of the size India has, this agency may require at least a hundred thousand ground level staff and is it not a pity that it has not even 2% of this requirement at present! The laboratory infrastructure is dilapidated and unless their number is increased dramatically, capabilities raised several fold and facilities modernized quickly, the chaos and drift that that are the hall marks of food safety enforcement regime obtaining at present will go on and on till perpetuity with 'no light at the end of the tunnel".   

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