Krishna Methekar, 46, stacks large brown cartons one on the other in his air-conditioned office in Bandra (East). Each contains hundreds of packets of gutkha, banned in Maharashtra since July 20.
Most of these cartons have been seized on board trucks entering the state from Gujarat.
“I’m going to have to run to court in an hour with this evidence,” he says.
Methekar is comfortable in court. A food safety officer for 17 years, he has even acquired a law degree along the way.
“I realised that I was spending half my time in court,” he says. “Conviction rates are low and many cases are dismissed for the lack of evidence or improperly-filled-out documents. So I decided to learn the law in order to do my job more efficiently.”
The law degree earned him a promotion; Methekar is now a senior officer with the Food and Drug Administration of Maharashtra, earning Rs 45,000 a month, up from Rs 3,600 when he started out in 1996.
Originally trained as a veterinarian, Methekar says his stints at a poultry farm and a hatchery have been of great use to him when assessing husbandry farms and slaughterhouses.
“I moved to the FDA because I felt I could serve society better here,” he says.
A resident of Thane, Methekar begins his day at 6.30 am, with a breakfast of tea and poha or omelette and bread in the two-bedroom flat he shares with his wife, an English teacher, and two sons, aged 20 and 13.
At 8.15 am, Methekar sets off by train for his office, where he clocks in at 10. He has usually lined up his assignments the night before.
“Reading newspapers is an important part of the job. If there are incidents of food poisoning in the news, my first priority is to immediately launch an investigation,” he says.
On an average, Methekar investigates four or five such cases a month.
In the absence of a fresh case or an ongoing investigation, Methekar usually spends the day in court, completing paperwork or conducting routine or surprise raids at establishments within his jurisdiction.
He is also responsible for creating awareness about hygiene within the food industry’s massive unorganised sector.
“We make sure they know the rules. If they still violate the law, then we take action,” he says.
About twice a month, Methekar conducts late-night surprise checks and raids. On these nights, he and at least four other food safety officers stay back at the Bandra (East) office, order dinner from a nearby eatery and watch the clock tick past midnight, sometimes to 3 or 4 am, when they head out for the secret operation.
On days when he leaves the office on time, at 7 pm, he enjoys a leisurely dinner with his family followed by an hour of watching Marathi serials on TV.
“I prefer funny shows. After a long day of work, the last thing I want to see is some weepy, saas-bahu serial,” he says, laughing.
Officially, his days off are Sunday and every second and fourth Saturday. But sometimes there is work on these days too.
“This is a never-ending job,” he says. As a result, Methekar has not taken a vacation in nearly two years.
“But I don't have any regrets,” he says. “I love what I do because I can potentially affect so many people’s lives for the better.”
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