Staff crunch hits food safety drives in Assam

From Our Special Correspondent

GUWAHATI: Manpower shortage in the Assam food safety department is hampering field inspections, with at least 30 newly-created posts remaining vacant.
Sources in the department told The Shillong Times on Monday that as many as 23 posts of food safety officers and seven posts of designated officers are yet to be filled in Assam.
“Shortage of manpower means that we cannot sustain our food safety drives in the market for long. The department also has duties such as licensing and registration besides other miscellaneous work to do,” said an official in the department here.
The staff shortage is more noticeable in Upper Assam. “Worse still, in Jorhat, Sivasagar, Charaideo and Dibrugarh, there are no food safety officers. This being the case, there is an issue regarding jurisdiction as well. But it is good that the government has created 30 posts which of course have to be filled first,” another official said.
At a time when unscrupulous traders unflinchingly lace fruit such as mangoes and papayas with calcium carbide to ripen them before the natural course, the intervals between such inspects allows many an offender to escape action at the cost of human health.
A team from the department in Kamrup Metro district carried out a raid last Friday and managed to seize 19.5 quintals of carbide-ripened mango and 3 quintals of artificially-ripened papaya from a market in Fancy Bazar. However, the department, burdened with excess work load, has not been able to sustain the drive over the past three days.
“Traders keep calcium carbide, containing hazardous chemicals, in small packets inside cartons to ripen the fruit within 24 hours. Another challenge is that they have to be caught in the wee hours when they unload the items from trucks coming from outside the state,” he said.
Not just fruit, vegetable or fish markets, the department also conducts raids on kitchens of restaurants not catering to hygiene standards.
“At the moment, the food safety raids are basically routine annual drives. This is an area of concern as health is at stake. This is the holy month of Ramzan and mangoes and papayas are flooding markets in the city now,” said a resident here.

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