No Specific Forum in Guwahati to File Complaints Against Stale/Spoilt Raw Food
Suppose you bought fresh meat from the market, and found that the product sold to you is not good enough to consume. It might turn out to be rotten; some even smell of medicine or give off other foul odour or at the very least you feel it’s inappropriate for consumption as it is not at par with the product you consume regularly. This is likely in the case of every raw product that you purchase like fish, vegetables, fruits, grains, and others. Similar situations might arise with products like sweets, dairy products etc that are sold loose without proper packaging.
What is the first step you should take or you usually take in such situations? Where or whom do you complaint about it?
G Plus asked Guwahatians what they do when faced with such a situation.
A certain percent replied that they would go to the Consumer Forum. However, the most prompt answer was, “I will post it on social media platform and aware others of the product and the shop.”
However, making a post on social media might spread awareness or ignite some discussion amongst the concerned masses, but does that solve the problem? Social media updates do not even reach to most sections of society.
Many citizens are not even aware of the right and immediate step to be taken if they find themselves cheated on their purchases.
Given this situation, G Plus enquired on the same with the Consumer Forum of Guwahati.
AFA Borah, President of the District Consumer Forum, informed that a case could be filed in the Consumer Court regarding any issue faced by a consumer. People can also raise their concern with the zonal deputy commissioner of GMC, commissioner of GMC or the joint director of health services. He mentioned that as per the bylaws of The Assam Municipal Act, 1956, guidelines have been provided for the municipal corporations to take necessary steps to check the quality of raw and fresh food on a daily basis. Also there are various other departments like the Directorate of Health Services, Controller of Legal Metrology, and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, that are suppose to keep check on the various consumer products including the non-packaged ones.
He further informed, “Veterinary doctors working with the Guwahati Municipal Corporation have to check every batch of poultry and other meat products. There are also food safety officers under every health directorate that examines food items. However, in spite of availability of laws and officers inspections are not conducted regularly.”
L R Nampui, food safety official of Kamrup (M), talking to G Plus informed, “In incidents of spoilt food or any other quality issue, people should raise a complaint with the designated officer of the Food Safety Department at the Office of the Joint Director of Health Services, Kamrup (M) for immediate action. The office is located at Kharguli near the Brahmaputra State Guest House.”
However, when asked about the existence of any toll-free number of any other contact number where immediate complaint can be raised, or even a website for that matter, Nampui said that no such contacts are available as of date although there is an all India portal - fssai.gov.in - where complaints can be raised.
As such it can be pointed out that at a time when web portals and immediate contacts have become a necessity in every field, and various government departments also provide permanent and temporary contact details for the benefit of the public, a department dealing with sensitive and essential issues such as food and public welfare does not have an active contact number.
While sources at the consumer court said that all food samples are examined at the Directorate of Forensic Science Assam and other mobile laboratories of the state government, officials of the food safety department informed that the examinations are done only at the State Public Health Laboratory in Bamunimaidan. The laboratory is the only one certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) and apart from Assam is also being shared by Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
Nampui informed that there is a shortage of manpower in the department given the amount of work and the samples and places that are to be inspected across the city. There are only two food safety officers in Guwahati and another two from Amingoan, whereas the requirement is of at least ten food safety officers to maintain such a huge city.
“Apart from inspections of products of public consumption, these same officers also have to cater to the daily food inspections of the Chief Minister, Governor and other VIP guests, apart from licensing food shops, attending public complaints and others. We also have hundreds of applications for new establishments and officers have to check the premises before issuing those. So rather than conducting inspection of all food items per day, we select sections of food products for examination as possible due to lack of manpower,” added Nampui.
Given the very limited number of officers and laboratories, and without the presence of any immediate contact, the natural question that arises is will the food sample of the damaged or spoilt product sustain till the whole process of filing and complaint and examining the same is completed? Then how are the concerned authorities going to charge the seller?
Unfortunately, food officials could not provide any answer to these basic enquiries.
Pallavi Kachari, Collector of GMC said, “GMC is the nodal corporation office that executes the laws in the field. There are laws and bylaws for the matter and GMC is the agency to regulate them all. People can complaint directly to the Commissioner or to the two Joint Commissioners of Health and Enforcement under GMC.”
Borah, President of the Consumer Forum said, “There are enough laws and authorities to cater to the welfare of the public. Public awareness must be undertaken and every citizen must stand up for his or her right. The consumer court cannot take action unless complaints are made. We request public to come forward.”
He has further requested every affected citizen of Guwahati to complain about even the smallest of consumer dissatisfaction, be it over-charging, spoilt product or less quantity.
Further, while higher officials at GMC said that cases against any raw products should be taken by the Assistant Deputy Commissioner (Health) as the nodal body, the latter pushed the matter towards the Joint Director of Public Health.
GMC confirmed that they have a Veterinary Officer along with a team of other medical officers.
While none of the government authorities are willing to take up any responsibility on the matter, the Consumer Forum officials have assured that they would conduct an awareness program after the coronavirus scare has subsided.
Drives conducted by city authorities to prevent the pandemic from reaching Guwahati
Earlier, Kachari had also informed G Plus that on receiving a complaint, an eviction drive was conducted at Kamakhya Gate on illegal meat shops that were selling openly.
It has to be mentioned that the GMC officials along with the Commissionerate of Police has been carrying out massive eviction drives against many unhygienic food stalls, restaurants and others especially given the coronavirus scare from which Assam and the city are till safe.
Talking about the precautions being taken by the food safety department in light of the COVID-19 scare Nampui said, “We have not received any direction from the food safety authority of India but we have been issuing orders from the Commissionerate of Food Safety for checking of meat stalls and other raw materials and also for the inspection restaurants.”