Track FDA Raids on Eateries by Filing RTI
Last week, Moneylife had published an interview with Dr Pallavi Darade. Her raids on 350 outlets from where four leading online food app companies procured food for their customers, revealed unhygienic conditions in 112 outlets, which did not have registered licences either.
 
To recall, Dr Darade had revealed the condition of restaurants/outlets from where cooked food is procured by the fashionable online food service apps—Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and Uber Eats—and is served to thousands of unsuspecting youngsters. Thus:
 
  • though it was promised that food had been delivered from this or that outlet, many a time it was found that the food was actually delivered from the dhaba right next to the customer’s house, or from a very small outlet  and at times even from homemade kitchens where facilities were inadequate; 
  • there was no pest control; kitchens were dirty; 
  • the  water in which the food needs to be cooked was not potable and was never tested for safety; 
  •  sometimes toilets were very close to the kitchens and medical check-up of people who were serving the food under these extremely unhygienic conditions was never done;
  •  sometimes dirty clothing was lying around;
  •  sometimes the storerooms where raw material was kept was not hygienic.
 
Dr Darade concluded by pointing to the shocking outcome of the searches and raids that there were several parameters that needed to be applied under the Food Safety Act, which were not complied. 
 
In order to procure more details on the reports of the raids, I decided to file an RTI application with the public information officer, Food & Drugs Administration, government of Maharashtra. And that was the first stumbling block. During the entire day on Wednesday, its website http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/ just did not open. I wanted to find out the name of the public information officer and the correct office address. I got access to it only today, Thursday at 4.30 am.  However, I am appalled to note that when you click the `RTI Act’ icon on its homepage, you get no information on the name of the public information officer or the appellate authority for filing your RTI requisition/appeal (http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/SPK-D-3A11(1).pdf). This pdf copy that has been posted on its website names designations of officers without any names. Providing the names of PIOs is compulsory under Section 4 of the RTI Act. 
 
Besides, FDA is a government agency, which should be directly connected with the people as it deals with the crucial element of their health, and what better way than interacting through the public domain, that is, its website? I have decided to file a complaint with the state information commission against FDA for not following the proactive disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
Also, what is shocking is this feedback from one of our readers, Adheer Pai who wrote in the comments column of my article published last week, “The link to register a food related complaint on the FDA website does not work. (http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/food.html (Click Report a Food Problem).” 
 
Dr Darade had confidently stated that consumers could use this Facebook page for any complaint. Her words are: “Yes, we get complaints often because we have offices across Maharashtra; we also have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Maharashtra.FDA1/.); a helpline number (1800222365) and our landline no is 022-265923-63/64/64. So, through all these online and offline support systems, we keep getting complaints. In fact, these complaints were the major ground information sources for us which brought our attention to the seriousness of the issue and made us believe that we need to check it thoroughly.”
 
Hence, I shall communicate Adheer Pai’s feedback to her.
 
Nevertheless, you can address your RTI application (like I have done) to the public information officer, Food and Drugs Administration, Survey No. 341, 2nd Floor, Bandra-Kurla Complex, Opposite Reserve Bank Of India, Kala Nagar, Bandra East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400051. Do not forget to stick Rs10 court fee stamp. (See picture shot of my RTI application)
 
 
I have asked for the following information for the period of 1 January 2017 to 10 January 2019:
 
1. Please provide copies of all reports of raids conducted on 350 or more outlets of online food service apps—Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other.
2. Please provide a copy of the proposal and decision to conduct raids on Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other.
3. Please provide copies of photographs and videos taken of the kitchen, toilets and any other that may have been clicked or shot, during the above raids.
4. Please provide a list of all the outlets that were raided along with addresses and list of outlets.
5. Please provide copies of correspondence of authorities of Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other to your office, in this matter.
6. Please provide mandatory rules and regulations for procuring a food license and a copy of action taken when there is a violation of such rules and regulations.
7. Please provide a copy of FDI’s order to close 10,000 or more outlets of above food companies.
8. Please provide a copy of the proposal for further action/action taken against Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any others for being responsible for putting their customers’ health in danger.
 
Let us make this into a public movement through the RTI route. We cannot afford an entire generation of unhealthy youngsters who are going to be the future citizens of this country!
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 
 
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COMMENTS

Veeresh Malik

2 months ago

RTI Applications can also be filed online with State Government of Maharashtra and PIO or specific department office is not known please file with GAD of CM Office. They have been very helpful in transferring my RTIs to the various subordinate offices all over MH under 6/3. Online also means no need to buy stamp or stationary. You can file in English and ask for a reply in English but will get a reply in Marathi.

REPLY

Meenal Mamdani

In Reply to Veeresh Malik 2 months ago

Thank you Mr. Malik. Your info will come in handy for citizens in Mumbai.

Unfortunately I am a NRI and not a citizen of India any longer but I wish Indian consumers all the best in their struggle for improving the hygiene in the eateries.

I have copied Ms Deshmukh's and your suggestions and plan to send it to as many of my relatives and friends as possible and exhort them to hold the eateries accountable.

This year I have seen several restaurants displaying signs saying that their premises are fire regulations compliant, thanks to the pressure created by consumers after last year's horrific fire in a restaurant.

I hope that this movement for hygienic restaurants catches on. We all will benefit from it.

Meenal Mamdani

2 months ago

Ms. Deshmukh, this is a call to arms for all citizens. You are persistent and meticulous. I hope your call is taken up by many in Mumbai.
Wish your drive all the best.

Short Shrift to SC Order; Babus Emerge as Information Commissioners in Opaque Process
The transparency law, called the Right to Information Act (RTI), after much hammering by the Supreme Court has, just been gifted with a chief central information commissioner, Sudhir Bhargava, an information commissioner until now in the CIC and four information commissioners—Vanaja N. Sarna (the only lady), formerly, chief of the Central Board of Excise and Customs; Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, former High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom; Suresh Chandra, former Union law secretary and Neeraj Kumar Gupta, secretary in the department of investment and public asset management, in the most opaque manner.
 
These posts had remained vacant for several months and have been finally filled up and only after a public interest litigation (PIL) case was filed in the Supreme Court. However, directives given by the SC to put up on the website the names of the search committee which was looking out for candidates and applicants as well as the shortlisted ones for these posts, have been violated. When this writer checked the department of personnel and training (DoPT) website on the 3rd January, at 2.20pm, no details had been put up until then. This means, the candidates were secretly chosen from the cosy babus’ basket wherein retired babus often lie, awaiting rehabilitation to such posts.
 
Anjali Bharadwaj, one of the petitioners, vehemently states, “It appears that in contravention of the SC order, no information about the search committee, names of short-listed candidates or the short-listing criteria have been uploaded. Further, no information about the meetings of the selection committee is available on the website.”
 
States Commodore Lokesh Batra, her co-petitioner, “The violation of the orders of the Supreme Court by the government means that appointments of commissioners to the transparency watchdog have been shrouded in complete secrecy. The lack of transparency is especially worrying given that the government had issued defective advertisements for inviting applications for the posts of information commissioners and the chief. The advertisements did not specify the tenure and salaries of commissioners, even though these are defined in the RTI Act.’’
 
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former CIC, one of the few non-bureaucrats who did a splendid job during his five year tenure, is also up in arms and has written a letter to the members of the search committee with cc to the President of India. He states in the letter,  “Why all the four chosen only from the bureaucracy? Couldn’t the search committee find even one eminent person from the fields of law, social service, media, journalism, science and technology, as mandated by Section 12(5) of Right to Information Act? There should be at least one from each of these fields and the chief information commission should be one of them in rotation to rebut the criticism that the information commissions are being filled with retired bureaucrats. The governments should understand that ‘administration’ is only one of the fields and not the only one, specifically mandated in the RTI Act for both Central and state commissions.’’
 
Just to recall, Prof Acharyulu provides the following reference:
 
  • A bench of Justices AK Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and R Subhash Reddy asked the Centre to put on the website details of search committee for CIC and ICs. 
  • Additional Solicitor General informed the court that a total of 65 applications had come for the post of CIC and 280 applications had been received for the post of four ICs in the Central Information Commission.
  • It was also informed that after these posts are filled up, notification would be issued for inviting applications for the remaining posts of ICs.
  •  Prashanth Bhushan had raised an objection to the absence of the term of the office of the CICs in the notification calling for applications for these posts. It is an important legal question. Because the notification does not mention the term and status, many eminent persons might have not opted to even apply, which naturally shrinks the scope of the right persons from getting into the transparency body. 
  • With the danger of amendment to RTI Act looming large, only those who are ready to take a position subordinate to the Centre, might have applied..
 
He further adds,  “The rationale for seeking transparency in the process of appointment is to ensure that there is no arbitrariness in the appointment process and the most appropriate candidates from diverse backgrounds, as laid down in the RTI Act, are appointed as information commissioners. Further, disclosure of information about the short-listed candidates enables members of the public to inform the selection committee of any significant adverse information they may have about them in terms of their appropriateness as commissioners. If appointments to the CIC have been finalised without proper transparency, the entire purpose of the SC order directing disclosure of information to enable public scrutiny stands defeated.’’
 
However, the government cares a hoot! The RTI Act has suffered a hard blow. No doubt, the government is uncomfortable with non-bureaucratic information commissioners like Shailesh Gandhi, Prof Sridhar Acharyulu and Vijay Kuvalekar who were dynamic and understood the pulse of this citizen-friendly Act.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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Supreme Court gives a dressing down to States that have not appointed Information Commissioners; must fall in line by 22nd Jan
There is now hope that several contentious issue related to the Right to Information (RTI) Act and appointments of information commissions will be resolved in January 2019. Issues pending before the Supreme Court (SC) through a public interest litigation (PIL) include —  the inordinate delay in appointing the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCIC), Information Commissioners (ICs) at the centre and various States, opaqueness in selecting ICS, violation of rules regarding the status and salary of these appointments. 
 
The PIL, which was filed in April 2018 by activists Anjali Bharadwaj, Amrita Johri and Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), received a boost during the 13th December hearing we have reported already.   
 
On that day, the Supreme Court directed the central government to make the appointments transparent by putting up the names of the search committee, the names of the shortlisted candidates and their selection criteria. It also slammed various States that have been dilly-dallying over this issue and asked them to fall in line before the next hearing scheduled for 22nd January, 2019.
 
While various states provided reasons for the delay, the SC issued specific orders in each case as detailed below.  
 
Karnataka: An affidavit filed on behalf of the Karnataka government mentioned that there is only one vacancy of the State Information Commissioner (SIO), which had been advertised. However, in the meantime, the Karnataka High Court had stayed the appointment process. 
 
The SC has not issued any further orders in this case.
 
Maharashtra: In the affidavit on behalf of the Maharashtra government mentions that post of State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) has already been filled. It also detailed various steps taken to fill the post of State Information Commissioner (SIC) and assured that the appointment would happen soon. It is further admitted that two post of SIC have fallen vacant now and advertisements for filling those vacancies will be published within four weeks. 
 
SC Order: Asks Maharashtra government to disclose details on its website as was directed in the case of Union of India.
 
West Bengal: Counsel on behalf of the state said that the SCIC has already been appointed; one SIC is already in place and one more SIC has been appointed. This means that one SCIC and two SICs are holding office at the moment. The RTI Act provides for the appointment of up to 10 SICs. The state’s counsel was not sure as to whether the entire work can be dealt with by only one SCIC and two SICs. 
 
SC asked the West Bengal government to file an affidavit within two weeks stating the requirement of SICs. It also asked for information on RTI applications filed and well as number of appeals pending before SICs and details of pendency. 
 
Andhra Pradesh: Counsel for the state handed over an affidavit on 12 December 2018, which said that three persons have been appointed as SIC. It is also said that although the post of SCIC was advertised, nobody could be appointed and it is not decided to issue a fresh advertisement. The advertisement for the post of SCIC was issued on 24 August 2018 applications were accepted until 10 October 2018. Thirty-one applications were received and a Selection Committee meeting was proposed to be held soon. It expects that the SCIC shall be appointed within a month after the selection meeting. It further said that M Ravi Kumar, the SIC, is holding charge as SCIC so that the Commission may function. 
 
SC order: Asked the state to file an affidavit on the lines of that sought from the West Bengal government before the next date of listing. It shall also disclose details on the government website. 
 
Telangana: The state did not comply with the SC order to file an affidavit and pleaded inability to do so on account of elections to the state legislative assembly, whose results were announced on 11 December 2018. 
 
SC order: The state was granted its request for two weeks' time to file an affidavit. The affidavit must indicate how many SICs are functioning, how many posts are required and disclose the steps taken to fill up these posts. Telangana has already decided not to fill up ten posts of SIO, so the court has asked for justification of the decision in an affidavit on the lines of the one directed to be filed by West Bengal.
 
Odisha: The Odisha government has earlier filed an affidavit to the effect that the State has decided to allow the Information Commission to function with one SCIC and three SIC. It stated that SCIC and two SICs are already in place and and advertisement will be issued shortly for the one remaining post. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners submitted that there is huge pendency before the Odisha Information Commission and there is no justification to have only three Information Commissioners. 
 
SC order: The Odisha government has been asked to file an affidavit on the lines directed to the West Bengal government before the next date of listing, including putting up information on the commission’s website.
 
Gujarat: The counsel for Gujarat said she has received information from the State only two days ago and will file an affidavit within a week. However, she orally informed the court that based on information received, Gujarat has one post of SCIC and four SIC. Of these, the SCIC and one SIC are functioning, the three vacancies for SICs have been advertised, applications received and the process of filling up vacancies is before Selection Committee. 
 
SC order: The court expects the selection process to be completed at the earliest, preferably before the next hearing. Details will be disclosed on the website in line with directions issued to the union government.
 
Kerala: The counsel for Kerala stated that one SCIC and four SIC are functioning in the state. Five posts of SICs could not be filled due to some pending litigation filed before the Kerala High Court. No further order by SC.
 
Let us hope that 2019 is Happy New Year for the citizen-empowered and citizen-friendly RTI Act.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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