In order to effectively implement its mandate, which is to prevent adulteration of food and ensure food safety, the department of prevention of food adulteration (PFA) should actively engage with the citizens.
And unlike before, the internet offers an excellent opportunity for doing that. However, the website of the Delhi government's department of PFA comes as a big disappointment.
In fact, consumers should be its main focus and the website should make every effort to give as much information as possible on what is being done to ensure food safety.
For example, given the widespread scare caused by food poisoning involving the buckwheat flour (kuttu flour) during the Navaratra celebrations, the website could have provided information about the progress on the investigations into the case.
The website could have also informed the victims of kuttu flour on how to get redress and compensation.
Only recently a reader asked me if he can file a case against the trader even if he did not have the receipt as proof of purchase. I would think that a hospital record confirming kuttu flour poisoning should be adequate. Now why can't this website provide such opportunities for interaction between consumers and officials?
On the left of the home page, you will see several icons, but the two which are of interest to consumers are the "Citizens Charter" and the "Citizens Corner".
Whoever drafted the Citizens Charter obviously had no interest in making any serious commitments to the citizens on the work of the department.
Under the sub-head "Time schedule for attending to the grievances" the charter says "No time schedule for disposal of complaints however has been prescribed in view of the differing requirements of every complaint"- so even here, the department is unwilling to commit itself to a time line.
Then there is the Citizen's Corner— which tells you about the complaint redress mechanism and gives the addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail IDs of the local health authority in your area to which you can complain.
There is also an online complaint facility, which is good, but again, no information on how much time it takes for redress or what happens once you complain.
With a little effort, this website could well encourage consumers to complain-both online and on toll-free numbers (should be provided).
So long as consumers are assured of positive and honest action on their complaint, there would be many willing to take on those who sell unsafe food. But for that to happen, the department should first make its website consumer-friendly and consumer- centric.
Gagandeep Chadha: I purchased a packet of branded bread from a nearby store and, was shocked to see a dead insect inside the bread clearly visible from the outer packing. We have still not opened the bread and would like to pursue this matter further as this could have had serious consequences on ones health if consumed. Please suggest us the best way to book, these errant food manufacturers who play with the health of consumers.
Answer: Please go to the website of the Department of PFA, Delhi government and lodge a complaint online.
You can also get the telephone number of the SDM in your area from the website and call him. However, before handing over the bread with the insect to the officials, get a receipt for it.
It would also be good to, take a picture of the bread. The department can certainly prosecute the manufacturer, but they ought to inform you of it.
Also, it is your right to know how the insect came to be there and what action is being taken by the manufacturer to ensure that this does not happen again.