Is Odisha turning a safe haven for food adulterers?

State filed 13 criminal prosecutions in 2017-18, post declaring 54 samples as adulterated/misbranded from mere 229 samples collected. But not a single conviction or a Re 1 penalty amount collected. In contrast, nation as a whole had collected penalty amount worth Rs 26.35 crores in 2017-18

Bhubaneswar:  For the food adulterers, Odisha is seemingly a soft State.  The oft popping up of synthetic milk, eggs or rice has been an outcome of State’s lax implementation of the Food Safety and Security Act.

Even when 2 in every 10 samples in the State were found to be adulterated and when nearly 4 samples of milk in every 10 samples taken were declared as adulterated, and when the Odisha government has filed 13 criminal cases against adulterers in 2017-18, neither a single case had seen conviction nor the State could extract any penalty amount.

Due to such slipshod approach, Odisha has been tagged among the bottom-ten states in Food Security Index (FSI) nationally. As per the latest scores (as on June 2019), Odisha was assigned a score of 45 in the FSI. The State is only ahead of six north-eastern states and Jharkhand.

Consider the instance of milk adulteration. Odisha could collect only 8 milk samples for test in the year 2017-18, when a small neighbouring state like Chhattisgarh could collect 41 samples in the same year.  Despite collecting a small sample draw, Odisha recorded adulteration in over 37 per cent samples compared to 29 per cent in Chhattisgarh.

However, the State had not filed a single criminal case against the violators. And the consequence is Odisha witnessed a zero amount realisation from penalties. In contrast, Chhattisgarh recovered Rs 15,000 as penalty amount from the violators.

As per the data available with the State Food Safety Commissioner, the State had overall filed 13 criminal prosecutions in year 2017-18, post declaring 54 samples as adulterated/misbranded from mere 229 samples collected. However, not a single case has seen conviction in the State nor mandated any penalty amount till date. In contrast, the nation as a whole had collected penalty amount worth Rs 26.35 crores in 2017-18.

An analysis of the FSI indicators reveal the rot prevailing in Odisha. While the State looks good in complying to the Central Act like setting of Food Tribunal etc, it failed miserably where it matters.

Odisha scored a mere 30 per cent in training and capacity building and 40 per cent in having the infrastructure and surveillance network for food testing across the State. It has only food testing lab and no referral lab. The State has only 38 food safety officers.

The poor score in the vital indicators reveal why Odisha sees collection of fewer samples and why the synthetic food items surfaces so often in the State.

Moreover, Odisha fared the second poorest in the country in creating consumer awareness on food safety and hygiene in the State with a poor score of only 1 out of 20! The result: Odisha has recorded at least 7 food poisoning cases every month between January and July 2019.