The Punjab food and safety department has found many irregularities in the inquiry into some of the food registration certificates and licences issued by the Jalandhar civil surgeon’s office to certain food business operators in gross violation of the mandatory online facility started by the central government in March 2014.
Food safety commissioner Hussan Lal, who had ordered a probe and deputed food safety nodal officer Dr Naresh Kumar to find out the truth, said only the district health officer (DHO) was a signing authority for issuing the licence to food operators, as per the provisions of the Food Safety Act.
Informing about the licences and registration certificates which were carrying the stamp and signature of the civil surgeon, Lal said the department checked the records and found no approval was sought by the civil surgeon to issue the same.
He said, “If the signing authority is not available in the office, then the civil surgeon can issue the licence by using special powers. But this can only be done by informing the headquarters in Chandigarh. In this case, this was not available in the records.”
The food and safety commissioner also said the inquiry also pointed that in many cases water-testing reports were also not available.
However, the inquiry left many points unanswered, raising the questions on it. It did not talk about the non-availability of the registration certificates and licences in question on the website -- foodlicensing.fssai.gov.in.
Confirming the fact, the state commissioner said he would look into this matter. However, he said it may be due to the nonavailability of computers, scanners and other infrastructure in the district offices.
‘DHO to be grilled’
He also added that he would ask the DHO to give details over his preliminary report that records were not available in the office, as when the nodal officer checked the records, the same were available.
As per the preliminary report, the DHO was asked to provide records of these registration certificates and licences and given a 15-day deadline to respond it. After an extensive search for the records, the department wrote to the nodal officer that it did not have any record of these documents.
Hindustan Times had reported on December 16, 2015 that many of the food business operators, unaware of the online system, had paid Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 despite the fact that the annual registration fee was just Rs 100 for a licence.
Balbir Singh, owner of a grocery shop and flour mill at Aman Nagar, was issued a licence for which he paid Rs 6,000. However, there was no record of Singh’s certificate (000071) on the Food Safety and Standards Authority website.
Shockingly, the certificate carried the renewal date as April 1, 2018, while the validity of the same was just one year. Singh claimed that he was not aware of the online facility and contacted the civil surgeon’s office for the purpose.
Similarly, the civil surgeon’s office issued a registration certificate (22114361006141) to Om Dhara Sweet Water at New Hardyal Nagar on November 9, 2014, with the renewal date mentioned as November 8, 2015. The certificate had manual alterations on it. The unit owner, Sukhwinder Singh, said he paid Rs 5,000 for the certificate.
Process for online registration
For online registration, one has to apply on the website after filling the requisite information. Then, the application goes to the designated food safety officer (FSO). The applicant approaches the officer who then asks him/her to submit the fee in the bank and submit the payment details. The applicant can get the registration certificate after 10 days.