Soggy salesStringent laws and implementation required to protect consumer rights
Published at : November 7, 2018
Updated at : November 7, 2018 07:44
Tihar, one of the most revered festivals in the Hindu calendar, has begun. Consequentially, consumption has increased too. But as consumption gets a boost during the second biggest festival in the country, there are concerns about the safety of popular food items such as sweets being sold in the market. Albeit late, the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest finally sprang into action and began conducting market inspection. But the fact that only one team has been deployed to prowl the bazaars seems to be nothing more than mere tokenism. Selling of substandard and contaminated food in the market is a major area of concern which has a direct bearing on public health. In the absence of regular checks on the sale of unsafe food items, the situation goes from bad to worse.
In 2011, when it was revealed that some of Kathmandu’s favourite sweet shops were making gudpak, a popular sweetmeat, out of foul ingredients, and that other sweet shops were using ghee made out of animal fats, the public was outraged and the government woke up to the deteriorating food quality in the market. Last month, the government sealed Sangam Sweets and Byanjan Sweets at New Baneshwor and Annapurna Misthana Bhandar at Gaushala for selling substandard sweets while Naya Bazaar Multi Venue, a banquet and event venue, too was sealed on the charge of serving stale meat with a musty smell. Similarly, action was taken against Sagarmatha Dairy at Jorpati as it was found doing business without renewing its operating licence, selling expired ghee and ghee adulterated with vegetable fat.
Adulteration, which amounts to slow poisoning, poses a serious risk to consumer health. Records at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control show that contaminated edible oil and ghee are the most commonly sold unhygienic products. Of the 150 firms that the department took action against last year, 21 percent were related to oil and ghee. Over time, government inspections have increased, but they have not been regular. They lack teeth and sincerity too when it comes to punishing those involved in unscrupulous trade. On the policy front, the Consumer Protection Act 2018 has been endorsed. It empowers the authorities to take prompt action against unscrupulous traders. But since the act was recently introduced, the regulations are still not in place. This, according to government officials, has hindered them from conducting proper and regular market monitoring. However, while that could be true partially, irregularities in the market have always been an issue.
The state has the primary obligation to prosecute traders engaged in foul practices that pose a grave threat to public health. But social pressure combined with business losses too can incentivise good behaviour. Unscrupulous elements thriving on consumer miseries should no longer be allowed to be back in business.