Your favourite sweets are not so sweet after all.
Tests done on food samples picked up by the district food inspection team in Jamshedpur before Diwali has found eight of 17 sweets — and their ingredients — “unhealthy for human consumption”. And the offenders include several well-known mithai makers — from kalakand veteran Brindavan Sweets of Bistupur to barfi master Shri Hari Sweets of Kadma.
A report from the state’s lone food testing laboratory in Namkum, Ranchi, which reached East Singhbhum food inspector Krishna Prasad Singh on Monday evening, categorises five of the samples as “substandard” (see chart) and three as “unsafe”.
According to the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, only the state food commissioner can exercise legal jurisdiction over unsafe sweets. The rogue shops can attract a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh and their owners a prison term of six months to two years.
On the other hand, deputy commissioners of respective districts can double up as adjudicating officers and decide the quantum of punishment against substandard sweets. The violation of food safety norms in this case invites a fine ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 2 lakh, but no imprisonment.
Despite the law being clear on how to act against offenders, a seemingly confused district health department has sought guidance from food commissioner T.P. Burnwal.
Speaking to The Telegraph from Ranchi, Burnwal reasoned that since the November 1-10 raids were carried out on sweet shops in the steel city after several years, the food inspection team was in two minds on how to go about punishing the guilty.
“There has been modifications in the Food Safety and Standards Act (2006) in 2012, which may have led to confusion. We have called a meeting of all district food inspectors and additional chief medical officers (ACMOs) at the health directorate in Namkum tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss and decide on the legal course of action,” he promised.
Burnwal admitted that copies of the 2006 act were available with district officials.
“We had also conducted orientation sessions this year. It is unfortunate that the rate of prosecution is negligible. Designated officials claim they are unaware of certain clauses in the modified act. We will clear their doubts and ask them to pursue the matter with deputy commissioners who can hold tribunals and prosecute the offender,” he maintained.
The ambiguity, according to the food commissioner, lay in assessing the fine to be levied on shops selling substandard sweets. “The 2012 modified act says the quantum of fines should be fixed taking the profit of selling substandard sweets into account. Besides, it should be compounded with each number of offence. For instance, a shop earning a profit of Rs 50,000 by selling a particular substandard sweet will be fined Rs 50,000 for the first offence and doubled for the second,” he explained.
Food inspector Singh claimed that they were unable to fix the profit earned on various sweets, which is affecting prosecution of offenders.
However, insiders in the health department said the ambiguity of the act was just an excuse on the part of overburdened food inspectors, who look after several districts, to escape the onus of preparing prosecution reports.
Sources in the know also said that the confusion might have been triggered by haste on the part of the district food inspector. Singh — who is also in charge of Seraikela-Kharsawan, Deoghar, Dumka and Gumla — did forward the lab report to deputy commissioner Himani Pande and serve notices to rogue shopkeepers, but apparently forgot to submit a copy to implementing official of the act, which in this case is ACMO Swarn Singh.
Contacted on his mobile phone on Wednesday afternoon, Singh said he was in Patna for a wedding, but would attend the meeting with the food commissioner in Ranchi to iron out issues.
Have you ever bought sweets from these tainted shops?