Print Edition - 2018-11-06 | News
Authorities leave buyers at traders’ mercy
- As consumption picks up during Tihar, state agencies have deployed only one team to monitor the market
Nov 6, 2018-
As Tihar shopping picks up, authorities leave quality and prices of goods for traders to mind. The Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest has said only one team has been deployed for market inspection. As consumption gets a boost during the second biggest festival in Nepal, there are concerns about the safety of popular food items such as sweets. The five-day festival began on Monday.
The delay in mobilising market monitoring teams, according to the department, is mainly due to the lack of regulations. While the newly endorsed Consumer Protection Act empowers government authorities to take prompt action against unscrupulous traders, the department, tasked with market inspection, was not clear how to get about its work in the absence of the rules.
The Consumer Protection Act 2018 authorises officials to fine errant traders up to Rs300,000 on the spot.
“As the regulation is not in place, our hands were tied when it comes to market monitoring,” said Yogendra Gauchan, director general of the department. “We’re still not clear whether market inspection should be carried out in line with the old rules or we should wait for the new regulations.”
“We’ve deployed one team to check sweets outlets in Kathmandu from Monday,” said Gauchan. The department has based its action on the old regulations. Consumer rights activists criticise the government for failing to monitor the market. Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumers Forum Nepal, said the government bodies should not stop market inspection on the pretext of not having new rules. “As the old regulation is still in place, the government should come up with firm measures to protect consumers,” Maharjan said.
Given the high sales of edible items—sweets, ghee and edible oil in particular—during Tihar, consumer rights activists say the authorities should be vigilant to ensure that consumers get quality and hygienic products in the market.
Since the festive season provides unscrupulous traders ample room to sell contaminated confectioneries and sweets, they said government agencies should ensure that edible items are manufactured through hygienic practices and consumers are not charged exorbitant prices.
Records at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) show that 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.
According to the department, the problem is more severe at a number of locations in the central Tarai. Apart from the traders using chemicals, inedible colours and expired ingredients to prepare sweets, substandard oil and ghee are the major problems in the confectioneries business. “Besides unhygienic production plants, shopkeepers use oil and ghee containing excess amounts of polar compounds,” DFTQC Director General Sanjeev Kumar Karna said.
Polar compounds are formed in oils and fats during the frying or heating process due to the breakdown of triglyceride molecule. According to Karna, the department does not allow the presence of polarity to be more than 25 percent.
In a number of cases, the DFTQC had found cooking oil laced with peroxide and fatty acids. Peroxide is used as a cleaning agent, and if it is mixed with food, it damages the heart, lungs, arteries and veins upon ingestion. Fatty acids lead to an increased risk of colitis and immune system alteration.
Last month, a joint inspection team of the DFTQC and the Supply Management Department had sealed Sangam Sweets and Byanjan Sweets in New Baneshwor and Annapurna Misthanna Bhandar in Gaushala for selling substandard sweets. In the past, the government had grilled even popular sweets outlets such as Taja Gudpak Bhandar in New Road, Anamol Sweets in Bhatbhateni and Angan Nepal on the charge of selling unhygienic products.
The DFTQC, according to Karna, will mobilise two inspection teams and a well-equipped mobile laboratory to cross-check the sweets outlets in Kathmandu Valley.
Most of the time, food inspectors book a few shop owners and firms and slap fines on them, and after some time, the adulterators go back to their old business. No serious measures have been taken to check the proliferation of adulterated and substandard food, leaving thousands of people at the mercy of profit-hungry traders, Maharjan said.
Published: 06-11-2018 10:37