Right to Information
RTI reveals cockroaches, rat poison in Brisbane restaurants

The ‘Sunday Mail’ obtained ‘shocking’ information under the RTI on hygiene in eateries in Brisbane. Indian cities are not far behind; all you need to do is invoke the RTI Act, like it was done in Pune

We generally believe that Indians have a bad sense of hygiene and that our municipal corporations are lax when it comes to food safety in restaurants. This myth is dismissed with last week's revelation in tourist hot-spot Brisbane, when one of its leading daily "Sunday Mail" used the Right To Information (RTI) Act to get details about "black listed" restaurants on the Queensland health public register-a policy implemented by the Labour government in 2006 to put the names of offending restaurants in public domain, to safeguard health of citizens.

The article published on 3rd June in the Sunday Mail, (ww.) on the basis of documents procured under the information act is titled "Brisbane's black-list eateries named and shamed". The information procured from Brisbane City Council has revealed that names of influential restaurants which were heavily fined and prosecuted, for risking the health of citizens have not been made public in the Queensland Health Public Register, while small-time offenders are included in the list.

Also accessed is the dismal state of kitchen hygiene in the 'culprit' restaurants which debunks the theory put up by CWG (Commonwealth Games) official Lalit Bhanot that hygiene standards in India are different. If Mr Bhanot is to be believed, one would have thought that rat and cockroach-infested restaurants exist only in India but it is surprising to know that an otherwise forward nation like Australia is also marred by such problems. The article describes, "hundreds of cockroaches, and rat poison on a kitchen bench-these are some of the restaurant nightmares being kept from the public... Diners are being left in the dark about filthy rat and cockroach-infested restaurants thanks to the state's broken 'name and shame' regime."

The report states that documents under the Right to Information law revealed that a leading sushi restaurant, which was fined $45,000 because it was found to be a serious risk to public health during an inspection, has not been included in the public register. Another café which was also penalized heavily and has court cases against it for hundreds of cockroaches in its premises has also been protected from public eye. A Red Rooster restaurant which was fined $50,000 is not named in the public register. Similarly, 200 such restaurants have been protected and worse, instead of improving the system of food safety scrutiny, the Queensland council is contemplating shutting of the public register and instead introducing a mandatory board outside each restaurant with rating grades in order that the visitor instantly knows the cleanliness and hygiene standards. However, a research study conducted by New Zealand's food safety experts along with the government's food safety authority shows that visitors generally miss seeing the board and so the researchers have designed a special board which will not miss the eye of the visitor. For details: (ingentaconnect)
Among those penalised is an Indian restaurant too by the name of "Bombay Dhaba". The report states: "Bombay Dhaba, Shop 5, 220 Melbourne St, West End (relocated to Shop 2, 220 Melbourne St in May 2012)

"Action: Food licence cancelled January 2012. New licence issued 1 May 2012. Prosecution pending.

"Rat poison on bench tops, rodent faeces on shelving and flooring, rusting dishwasher racks, filthy floors and dirty dishes found during a council inspection in September, leading to the cancellation of the food licence. Photographs show green rat poison pellets on a food preparation bench, including close to a pair of tongs. Another business using the same name as Bombay Dhaba opened a short distance away on Melbourne St under a new licence last month after a fire in the old premises in January. A spokesman last week said the restaurant had a new premises and was under new ownership."

Other restaurants that have been prosecuted include Chinese as well as those serving European food.

The scenario in Pune
In 2010 and 2011, inspection of files under the RTI Act revealed that even posh restaurants, some of them five-star hotels, did not adhere to necessary food safety, kitchen and staff hygiene. Inspectors from the health department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) which conduct a bi-annual inspection (there are 11 inspectors for over 7,500 eateries), carry with them a form that is filled during an inspection. It contains a list of 29 items that the restaurant is expected to adhere to strictly under the BPMC (Bombay Provisional Municipal Corporation) Act.

Leading restaurants in various localities were given show cause-notices. Most shockingly, none of the restaurants (which were inspected) had conducted medical examination of their staff even once, let alone on a regular basis, which is mandatory for every restaurant. When asked, most of the restaurant managers had the audacity to say that they could not afford to spend on medical examination. This means that we could be eating food served by, or even prepared by someone who is suffering from skin disease or something worse including stomach infections.

What the PMC inspectors found:

  • Cobwebs noticed on the walls of the kitchen
  •  Prepared food not covered properly
  • No care taken to prevent contamination of food by dust or insects
  • Kitchen and storeroom used for storing raw materials not located at a safe distance from bathrooms, gutter or urinals, to avoid contamination of food

What can we do?
Since laws are weak, we need to be very careful about eating out. Home food is best, but when tempted, be finicky. At least once a year, invoke the RTI Act on five of your favourite restaurants to check if they have been sent show-cause notices. Any other idea is welcome as the WHO's (World Health Organization) report is disturbing. Read this: "The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce food-borne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators.

Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. In India, it unarguably the worst and we must not forget that we pay through our nose even to bite into a 'dosa'.

(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])


Buy at dips: Wednesday Closing Report

A strong move may have started. But wait for intraday corrections to buy. If the Nifty closes above 5,020 tomorrow we may see the index reaching 5,200

Hopes of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its policy meeting later this month and strong global cues helped the market close higher for the third day in a row. Yesterday we had mentioned that if the market closes above the day's high, we may see a short rally. Today, the Nifty's intraday high of 5,010 was its best in the last six days (including today), but the index closed slightly below that level. Also, the benchmark recorded its highest percentage gain of 2.75% since 3 January 2012. If the Nifty manages to close above 5,020 tomorrow, we may see the index reaching the level of 5,200. The volume of 68.48 crore shares on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) was higher than its 10-day moving average.

The Indian market opened on a firm note on positive cues from across the world. Markets in the US closed higher on better-than-expected ISM data, which showed that the index for non-manufacturing business rose to 53.7 in May from 53.5 in the previous month. Reflecting the US sentiment, the Asian pack, with the exception of the Chinese benchmark, was up in morning trade. Asian markets were also supported by comments from the G7 leaders who agreed to synchronise their actions to the European debt crisis.

The Nifty opened 24 points higher at 4,887 and the Sensex added 79 points to its previous close to resume trade at 16,100. The opening figures on both the benchmarks were also their intraday lows.

Across-the-board buying led by banking, fast moving consumer goods and technology stocks helped the market move to a higher trajectory. Speculations that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) would look at a rate cut on the back of easing of global crude prices also supported the gains.

Meanwhile, the rupee appreciated by 11 paise to 55.53 against the dollar in early trade, supported by a higher opening on the stock market amid selling of the greenback by exporters. The rupee had closed flat at 55.64 on Tuesday.

The benchmarks extended their gains in the noon session as the key European indices were in the green. The market hit its intraday high at around 3.00pm with the Nifty touching 5,010 and the Sensex climbing to 16,495.

The market pared a small portion of its gains and closed off the day's high. The Nifty added 134 points (2.75%) to settle at 4,997 and the Sensex jumped 434 points (2.71%) to finish at 16,454.

The advance-decline ratio on the NSE was in favour of the gainers at 1308:384.

Among the broader markets, the BSE Mid-cap index climbed 1.78% and the BSE Small-cap index advanced 1.78%.

Today's rally saw all sectoral gauges closing higher. BSE Auto (up 3.86%); BSE Capital Goods (up 3.63%); BSE Power (up 3.49%); BSE Bankex (up 3.01%) and BSE Fast Moving Consumer Goods (up 2.95%) were the top gainers.

Tata Motors (up 5.71%); Larsen & Toubro (up 4.77%); Jindal Steel (up 4.63%); Hero MotoCorp (up 4.29%) and Sterlite Industries (up 4.06%) led the Sensex today. There were no losers on the index.

The top gainers on the Nifty were Tata Motors (up 5.41%); Hero MotoCorp (up 5.08%); Jindal Steel (up 4.87%); Reliance Infrastructure (up 4.62%) and Ambuja Cements (up 4.59%). Cipla (down 0.34%); BPCL (down 0.26%) and Dr Reddy's Laboratories (down 0.21%) were the losers on the index.

Markets in Asia, with the exception of the Shanghai Composite, closed higher on global optimism. Better-than-expected services data from the US and assertion by G7 leaders on Tuesday that they would coordinate efforts to help countries like Spain and Greece ease their liquidity problems.

The Hang Seng climbed 1.43%: the Jakarta Composite jumped 3.32%: the KLSE Composite rose 0.58%; the Nikkei 225 surged 1.81%; the Straits Times advanced 1.79%; the KOSPI Composite gained 1.05% and the Taiwan Weighted closed 0.80% higher. Bucking the trend, the Shanghai Composite lost 0.10%.

At the time of writing, the key European indices were trading with gains of 1.38% to 2.03% and the US stock futures were in the green.

Back home, foreign institutional investors were net sellers of stocks totalling Rs680.86 crore on Tuesday while domestic institutional investors were net buyers of shares amounting to Rs794.65 crore.

Alstom T&D India today said it has bagged a contract worth Rs41 crore from Power Grid Corporation for setting up transmission network at Daltonganj in Jharkhand. The contract envisages supply, erection and commissioning of the substation. Alstom T&D surged 2.32% to close at Rs171.90 on the NSE.

Pharma major Dr Reddy's Laboratories has entered into a pact with Merck Serono, a division of Germany-based Merck KGaA, to co-develop biosimilar compounds. The tie-up will focus mainly on monoclonal antibodies in the oncology segment. The deal will also cover manufacturing and commercialisation of the compounds. The stock settled at Rs1,615 on the NSE, down 0.21% from its previous close.

Credit rating agency, CARE has assigned 'BBB' rating to Reliance Mediaworks' Rs45 crore Non-Convertible Debentures (NCD) programme, the rating agency has reaffirmed 'AAA(SO)' rating to the company's NCD programme worth Rs350 crore. The stock closed at Rs53 on the NSE, up 3.82% over its previous close.


Planning Commission says Rs35 lakh expenditure is ‘routine’

The Planning Commission justified Rs35 lakh spend saying it as ‘routine maintenance and upgradation’. However, it has no answer on money spent for the non-feasible door access control system for toilets

After media reports surfaced on how the Right to Information (RTI) application revealed that over Rs35 lakh was spent on renovating two toilets, including the cost on installation of installation of Door Access Control System at Yojana Bhawan, the Planning Commission clarified that it is “routine maintenance and upgradation”, and said that it was found that access-control system was actually not feasible in practice. The RTI applicant has demanded explanation if this amounted to wastage of Rs5 lakh spent to install the system.

Subhash Agrawal, the RTI applicant, told Moneylife, “The clarification is an afterthought, seeing the media reaction on how money was blown up.  While the RTI reply itself indicated that such system is not feasible, the Planning Commission’s reply backed it.”

In a statement the Planning Commission said, “These toilet blocks are meant for shared use and are all being renovated to the same standard. Because there have been instances of pilferages of newly constructed toilets, an access-control system was initially tried, but was not found feasible in practice. Yojana Bhawan is an important public building and must have the essential facilities. The costing and execution of works is not done by the Planning Commission, but by the CPWD (Central Public Works Department) which is the authorized government agency to do the same. The entire work is being done within the budgetary allocation and following the prescribed procedure.”

In a reply to a RTI application by Mr Agrawal, the Planning Commission revealed, “Cost of installation of Door Access Control System is Rs5,19,426 for two toilets. Cost of renovation of two toilets where door access control system is installed is Rs30,00,305.”

A communiqué from Planning Commission clarified that, “It is unfortunate that what is routine maintenance and upgradation is being projected as wasteful expenditure. The toilets being repaired or renovated are public toilet blocks, and not private toilets for senior officials or members. While the amount of Rs30 lakh being mentioned is correct, an impression is being created that this has been spent on two toilets. This is totally false, because these toilet blocks have multiple seats in addition to separate facility for the differently-abled. Each of these blocks can be simultaneously used by approximately ten people.”

However, information furnished under RTI revealed that CPWD has provided 60 smart cards for accessing these toilets to users including senior advisors, advisors, directors, personal secretaries, etc, making it clear that it was for private use.
The Planning Commission also said that more than 1,500 meetings are held every year and thousands of people use these public conveniences. A common complaint over the years was the poor quality of the toilets in the building—a complaint made not just by the ministers and foreign dignitaries who visit, but also by the staff and the journalists. “Does this mean that if I go to Yojana Bhawan, I have to find one of the 60 smart card users before accessing the toilet? Now they are saying the system is not feasible. But they have to answer whether the system is still in place or not in use and also what happened to those smart cards. Also, does this mean that Rs5 lakh is wasted?” asks Mr Agrawal.
Experts point out that it is still unclear who is responsible for the expenditure for the renovation on the toilets.


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