DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sign of the times - contempt for rule of law



It is an open secret in this country that food articles are adulterated, contaminated and frequently treated with toxic chemicals. This is done to sweeten fruits, quickly ripen and enlarge sizes of fruits and vegetables and to lend to them a farm-fresh sheen. This has been going on for quite some time and the press and some TV news channels have been pretty vocal about it. But the authorities concerned of the food and drug administrations of various states have seldom taken action. The result has been that this has been going on merrily and those indulging in the practise never bother about either the law or the consequences of their deceit on the consumers. We have reached a stage today that virtually every item of food, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian, milk or edible oils, is consumed with trepidation. A reputed physician in the local cancer hospital, when asked about enormously large waiting crowds of patients, told me it is all a result of pollutants in the atmosphere and contaminants in what people ingest.

Over the years governance has been so lax that adulterating or contaminating food articles seems to have become par for the course for those who trade in them. That is why when the local district and food safety officials got active late last month after a lapse of a couple of years there was resentment and those who took samples of some food articles from a well-known restaurant in the business district of Maharana Pratap Nagar, Bhopal, came in for some rough treatment. Not only were they gheraoed (a kind of wrongful and forcible restraint), preventing them from leaving the premises and they were subjected to some hooting and slogan shouting. Unused as they are to being checked in their wrong-doing, the offenders promptly collected a crowd of sympathisers from nearby eateries.

The bone of contention was “mawa”, Indian name for thickened milk, which is an essential ingredient of most of the Indian sweets that are made by confectioners. Many tons of adulterated thickened milk and other milk products were seized all over north India a couple of years ago and our own state was not far behind. Despite intensive action the illegal trade has continued and this year in Bhopal alone many quintals of adulterated mawa have been detected and seized before and after the fracas at MP Nagar. The illegal business picks up during the festivals occurring between August and October. No wonder, therefore the local authorities thought of carrying out checks and came up against aggressive offenders. The adulterants and contaminants are very harmful for health and lacing the food stuff with them should be treated as a serious offence.

Breaking law, resistance to law-enforcement – contempt for rule of law is what seems to be driving people. Lax, in fact, absence of governance has made the offenders bold enough to challenge the authority of the government. Those who unauthorisedly occupy public lands go after the squads of government officials who have the mandate to free them of encroachments. The auto-rickshaw drivers do not charge commuters by their installed metres, do not wear uniforms and do not display their names despite repeated orders of the district administrations. Basements meant for parking of vehicles have been sold or let out for shops, leaving no alternatives for the vehicle-owners but to park on the roads constricting the road-space for smooth movement of traffic. These are only illustrative; the malaise has gone viral affecting most of the socio-economic facet of current times.

Things have been happening like this for years but the administration has never shown any spine. Laws are weak and, on top of it, these are also sparingly enforced. And then, there is inevitable interference from political bosses rendering the bureaucracy helpless. A spunky sub-divisional magistrate had stood up to a minister when he interfered in her operations to penalise an adulterator of food stuff. She was promptly moved out and put in an inconsequential post in the Academy of Administration. (Please see “A spunky bureaucrat and an intemperate politician” http://bagchiblog.blogspot.com). No wonder, an era of lawlessness has descended in the state. Regardless of the claimed rise in the state’s GDP people are generally consuming what should be trashed away as poison.  
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