The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are pointing at each other when it comes to who should inspect roadside food stalls and take appropriate action. The end result is little action against roadside food stalls that violate safety standards in the crucial monsoon months, when consumers are at maximum risk of disease because of unhygienic food.
Amendment in law
The question of who should be out on the streets inspecting food and taking action against offenders arose because of an amendment in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006, and the PMC claims after the change in the law it is solely the responsibility of the FDA to take action.
While the PMC did not take any action on such food stalls in the past three months, the FDA admits very little was done by it — some FDA officials, who requested anonymity, even said the agency was taking no action at all against food stalls.
The finger-pointing between the PMC and the FDA means there is just no check on the quality of food served at thousands of food stalls in the city.
Shabana Yasmin, who lives in a hostel, said the lack of action against food stalls was noticeable as vendors no longer bothered about hygiene.
“As a hostelite, I have to eat street food a lot of times and I used to think that it is safe to have it,” Yasmin said. “But if you observe these roadside stalls now in the monsoon, all you can see is the use of dirty water and food served in an unhealthy environment.”
PMC officials claim that according to the amended Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, only the FDA is authorised to take action against food stall owners.
On the other hand, FDA officials claim that while they have the authority to grant licences and permissions to food stalls, the onus of taking action against these is not only on them but also on the PMC.
According to information received under the Right To Information Act using the open inspection facility, the PMC took action against roadside food stalls only till May. After that, there was no action taken by the PMC.
PMC Health Officer Dr S T Pardeshi said the civic body pitched in till May in the interests of safety of food consumers even though the rights to inspect and take action were given solely to the FDA last year.
“According to the Food Safety Act, the rights to take action on streetside food vendors are vested with the FDA from August 2011, but despite that we kept taking action on roadside food vendors till May 2012 to control the nuisance,” Pardeshi said. “From June 2012 we haven’t taken any action as it should be done by the FDA.”
Others in the PMC did not agree with Pardeshi and an official, who requested anonymity, said the civic body was still supposed to monitor roadside food under the provisions of the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations (BPMC) Act.
Earlier, the PMC was taking action under Section 337/338 of the BPMC Act, according to which all the food kept in the open on stalls was seized and destroyed.
According to a source, the PMC action stopped gradually. The PMC used to take action with a central team earlier, but from June officials ordered action be taken with the help of teams from the ward offices, but this lasted only a few days.
Much on FDA plate
The FDA claims that since it was entrusted with the task of granting of food licences to all eateries and food stalls, the additional responsibility was proving to be a burden on the food safety officers (FSOs).
FDA Assistant Commissioner (Food) Shivaji Desai said he had only 33 FSOs and they were unable to cope with both licensing and inspection.
“Our food safety officers are taking action on the roadside food stalls, but licensing according to the new Food Safety Act has to be done by the FDA and the FDA is focusing more on it,” Desai said. “We have a total of 33 FSOs and they are engaged in licensing activity as well as inspecting street food and taking action against offenders.”
After the amendment in the FSSA of 2006 became operational in August 2011, it became mandatory for all food manufacturers, including small eateries, to register or renew their license from the FDA.
The 12 food inspectors with the PMC later on got the rank of gazetted officers and came to be called food safety officers. This team of 12 was the one taking action against food stalls along with sanitary inspectors of the respective ward officers, but now they are now working with the FDA.
On the ill effects on the health of a person consuming unregulated street food, Dr Vikas Pai, a senior physician at Pai Clinic, said: “Most times the food gets contaminated because of flies and mosquitoes, and this results in various stomach-related diseases. Unhygienic conditions also cause malaria, dengue and typhoid. Food kept by vendors near garbage bins and toilets gets contaminated early and this can cause various diseases.