Hyderabad: Around a week ago, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released data on food enforcement in the country. Telangana has performed poorly along with West Bengal, Karnataka and Assam.
That Telangana is at the bottom of the charts in not surprising. The Commission of Food Safety in the state is running on a skeletal staff. It has fewer employees than a typical restaurant whose food it is supposed to monitor. These officers have far too many responsibilities and very few resources.
There are 58 sanctioned posts of food safety officers (FSO) in the state, but only five are filled. In fact, GHMC alone has 30 sanctioned FSO positions, though none of them is filled. The five serving FSOs are each stationed in the districts of Suryapet, Kothagudem, Mancher-ial, Warangal Rural and Mahbubnagar.
Another pain point for the department is that there are only nine district officers (DO) working across the state’s 32 districts (excluding the GHMC region). Though districts were reorganised in 2016, the jurisdiction of the DOs corresponds to the erstwhile districts. Since most of them have no FSO working under them, they themselves are asked to act as the FSO. Between themselves, these officers have the unenviable task of ensuring food safety across the thousands of restaurants and street vendors in the state.
A senior official from the department said that hiring new employees is next to impossible. “There is no budget. In fact, we can’t buy a couple of copies of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. That’s how short of funds we are,” he said. Indeed, the money is so non-existent that there is only one computer across the entire department, which is at the head office in Hyderabad! None of the DOs or FSOs has a computer on which to file reports. There isn’t even a printer anywhere. The officers have to get everything done externally from cyber cafes. The official quoted above said DOs and FSOs rarely ever check their emails. All business is done over phone and WhatsApp.
The DOs have no assistants and act completely on their own. “They have to travel across their jurisdiction on their own and collect samples from restaurants and street vendors all on their own. Things can get hairy in rural areas, where restaurant owners can gang up on the officer and threaten him....