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FSOs have more tasks, but reduced powers and inadequate infrastructure
Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Abhitash Singh and Harcha Bhaskar, Mumbai
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Exactly two years after the implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011, across the country, Food Safety Officers (FSOs), the personnel who make ensuring food safety possible by conducting raids, collecting samples and enabling punishment or fine in case of non-compliance, are a disillusioned lot.

While the FSOs admit that the regulations have given them more teeth compared to the predecessor - the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954 – they make no bones about the fact that though their responsibilities have increased multifold under the new regime, their powers have been reduced and work is hampered by lack of infrastructure such as offices and vehicles and absence of adequate number of personnel. FnB News takes a look at some of the states where FSOs are trying to do their duties while facing such issues:

Bihar

Kosi

Arjun Prasad, FSO, Kosi district, said, “The process has been going on very smoothly since FSSA, 2006, was implemented, but being government employees, we have not been allotted four-wheelers by the government in order to conduct raids. We have to make our own arrangements for transportation, and as a result, are unable to conduct raids at many places. So if the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) wants to obtain better results from each state, they should provide the FSOs with a larger fleet of vehicles.”

Gaya

Ashok Kumar Sinha, FSO, Gaya district, informed, “FSSA, 2006, is stricter than PFA, 1954, and is definitely a good move by FSSAI. But for the proper implementation of the Act, FSOs should be provided with better facilities, which have been lacking. We have been provided with two-wheelers, whereas the Designated Officers (DOs) have been given four-wheelers. A DO's job is to look after such aspects as licensing and registration, and not to collect samples and conduct raids on the Food Business Operators' (FBOs') premises.”

“In order to take stringent action against FBOs, FSOs should be provided with four-wheelers, and more people should be recruited. FSOs are like one-man army, and hence it gets difficult. And sometimes FBOs use their influence in order to escape raids. It is not possible to collect enough samples on a two-wheeler.”

Goa

North Goa

On the condition of anonymity, North Goa's assistant local health authority and senior FSO, said, “For the last two years, FSSA has been in existence, but most of the powers continue to be vested in the Designated Officers, instead of being bestowed upon the Food Safety Officers. During the PFA Act, the power was with the Designated Officers, but it should have changed in favour of FSOs during the new Act, because it is us who are carrying out most of the tasks.”
She added, “Goa has sufficient number of vehicles to carry out the raids and tasks of sampling and testing, but we have shortage of manpower. An interview has been scheduled, and we expect the problem to be solved soon. One of the problems we are facing is that all the staff operates from only one office, which is based in the North Goa district. There is no office for the South Goa district. We have been demanding it for the last one year.”

South Goa

Sanjot Kudalkar, South Goa's assistant local health authority and senior FSO, said, “In South Goa, we conduct regular checks on FBOs. Sampling and testing is the everyday process here, and each day there are two or three samplings by the FSOs. As per the time-frame stipulated by the Act, the results of the tests are declared within 14 days, and if they turn to be negative, the case is filed with the authority concerned.”

When quizzed if there is a shortage of vehicles in the district, she said, “The availability of vehicles makes the collection of samples easier, but we are actually facing a shortage of staff. That is the reason the FSOs have to undertake multiple tasks. But an interview has been scheduled for the recruitment of FSOs, and the situation will change very soon.”

Haryana

Jind

N D Sharma, FSO, Jind, said, “Manpower is a major challenge for us. We have brought the issue to the notice of the higher authorities, but action is yet to be taken.”

Rohtak

Om Kumar, FSO, Rohtak, stated that the key difference between PFA and FSSA was that licensing had come under the purview of the latter. “We carry out sampling and testing at least thrice a month, collect the samples and send to state headquarters for testing,” he informed.

Uttarakhand

Dehradun

Ramesh Singh, FSO, Dehradun, said, “FSSA came into force on August 5, 2011. Since then, most FBOs have been using fair means to do business, fearing action. FSSAI officials have lots of expectations from us, but we have a huge workload and inadequate facilities. We do not have a force with us to undertake inspection, and we have only a few vehicles at our disposal. Since FSSA came into force, I have personally collected 21 samples in 2011 and 68 in 2012, and this year, I have collected 85 so far.”

However, he said, “During PFA, I personally collected 32 samples in 2010 and 25 in the year 2009. The reason for collecting less samples during that period was that both food inspectors and officials from nagar nigam (civic body) were involved in raids and samples collection. But after FSSA, FSOs were loaded with more responsibility, their area of operations was expanded and they had to face increased expectations. In the new regime, even laymen are aware and inform us when they find anything wrong thus entailing more occasions for taking action.”
 
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