While the row over contaminated colas continues, mustard oil is still being commercially repacked in used tins, in blatant defiance of the amendment to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act by the Union government.
“The mayor, through his mayoral council member (health), is duty-bound to conduct regular raids and seize edible oils packed in used tins, in the interest of public safety,” said Congress leader of the Opposition Sailen Dasgupta. He went back to the mustard oil tragedy in the mid-90s at Buroshibtala, in Behala, where several people were maimed for life after consuming adulterated mustard oil.
A civic health official said after the spate of dropsy cases, caused by adulterated mustard oil in Delhi in September 1998, the Centre restricted the reuse of tin containers. Accordingly, the Centre amended the relevant section of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. The enactment prohibits reuse of tin containers to pack and market edible oils and vanaspati.
Chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh said the Centre made the gazette notification of the amendment about four years ago. But neither former CPM mayor Prasanta Chatterjee nor current Trinamul Congress mayor Subrata Mukherjee has taken the initiative to enforce the enactment. Reuse of containers makes it even more difficult to spot the actual source of contamination.
“It is a shame that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) failed to enforce laws meant to prevent adulteration of edible oils in Calcutta,” said mayoral council member (health) Pradip Ghosh.
The Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations welcomed the measure, whereas the Bengal Oil Millers’ Association described it as “impractical for a developing country like India”. Both organisations feared the measure would hike the retail price of edible oils and vanaspati by at least a rupee per kg.
There are about 800 oil mills in the state and their total output is about 4.4 lakh tonnes of mustard oil. This constitutes only 20 per cent of the state’s total demand. “It is a Rs 4,000-crore market,” said a millers’ association spokesman. At least 60 per cent of the mustard oil in West Bengal is sold in used containers.