A total of 107 cases have been registered under the Food Safety Act, 2006, in Punjab in the past two years, but the prosecution proceedings are moving at a snail's pace, and that too in the absence of any FIR (first information report).
Even if a sample test reveals that the 'varak' (foil) on a piece of 'barfi' is made of low-purity aluminum rather than high-purity silver, the culprit for such hazardous adulteration can continue in the food business, besides buying time to challenge the authorities concerned.
Besides the use of hazardous chemicals in sweets and other food items, the cases are also related to the manufacture or supply of synthetic milk and adulterated edible oil or ghee.
The fate of such sampling and testing cases has not changed much after the implementation of the Act, as the accused continue in the food business despite the prosecution proceedings underway against them.
The legislation, which has no provision for immediate cancellation of the licence after the sample failure, was partially adopted in the state in August 2011, when the government initiated the process of mandatory registration of all those in the food trade, right from hawkers to owners of hotels and restaurants.
Of the 107 prosecution cases sanctioned for the courts of local subdivisional magistrates (SDMs) across the state, 33 are in Amritsar, 17 in Ludhiana, 11 each in Patiala and Mansa, eight in Gurdaspur, seven in Tarn Taran, four each in Rupnagar, Sangrur and Jalandhar, three each in Ferozepur and Muktsar, and one each in Bathinda and Moga.
Licences of none of these 107 accused parties have been cancelled so far, a senior official in the Punjab directorate of health here confirmed on the condition of anonymity.
"There is no such provision (to cancel the licence) in the Act before the conviction (in court)," he pointed out.
These cases have been bracketed as fit for judicial prosecution out of the 2,700 food samples that have failed adulteration norms tests since August 2011.
The remaining 2,593 cases were labelled as "substandard" and sent to the respective adjudicating officers in the districts concerned for the imposition of penalties.
There is, however, no fixed amount of the penalty to be imposed on the violators. Thus, it is up to the officers concerned to decide the amount.
Talking to HT on the phone, Bathinda district's adjudicating officer Rajiv Prashar said he had announced penalties ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 in cases such as 'substandard' edible oil or 'khoya' with low fat content.
Significantly, all cases in which the food samples fail tests to the extent of being hazardous to health or unsafe for human consumption are sent to the state's commissioner for food.
The nodal officer concerned, Husan Lal, managing director, Punjab Health Systems Corporation (PHSC), told HT that the state government was upgrading its sole testing laboratory in Sector 11, Chandigarh.
A couple of assistant analysts are undergoing advanced training so that the lab meets the standards of the four labs enlisted in the Act. These labs, certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL), are located in Kolkata, Ghaziabad, Mysore and Pune.
The Punjab health authorities acknowledged that samples from the state were also being sent to labs in Kolkata and Ghaziabad, whenever required.
Test reports in 14 days
Under the Food Safety Act, samples are to be sent for testing in labs within 48 hours, and the test reports must reach food safety inspectors concerned in districts within 14 days. Under the Act, adjudicating officers have to pronounce the penalty to be imposed on the violators within three months.