Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Toxic Milk Sold in the Valley

Kashmir Observer investigates the latest shameful scandal in the State, followed by an editorial in the Greater Kashmir


83% Milk Consumed In JK Contaminated

Nazir Ganaie (Kashmir Observer)

Srinagar: In a shocking revelation, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India has claimed that 83 per cent of milk produced and consumed in Jammu and Kashmir is contaminated with components like salt, detergents and several other harmful substances being found in it. The milk not only has weak nutritious value but has several other side effects for human health as well.

According to a study conducted by the FSSAI, experts fear the consumption of contaminated milk by the gullible people across the state could lead to gastroenteritis, food poisoning, endocrinology and several other chronic diseases. They said the onus for this lied on the government which had given a free hand to the companies for adulteration.

The study revealed that hazardous substances like detergent, starch, soda, glucose and other synthetic substances were being mixed with milk which becomes harmful for human consumption.

In its first-ever country-wide survey on milk adulteration conducted in 2011, the FSSAI found that of the total 1,791 samples tested throughout the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, at least over 68 per cent i.e. 1,226 samples were either diluted with water or mixed with harmful detergents.

The situation is worse in the states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Daman and Diu, Jharkhand, Orrisa, West Bengal and Mizoram where all the samples collected were found to be contaminated or not conforming to the prescribed standards.

For instance, in Manipur, 96 per cent samples did not conform up to standards, in Meghalaya it was 96 per cent, followed by Tripura with 92 per cent, Gujarat 89 per cent, Sikkim 89 per cent, Uttrakhand 88 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 88 per cent, Nagaland 86 per cent, Jammu and Kashmir 83 per cent and Punjab 81 per cent.

In Rajasthan, the FSSAI study revealed, the level of contamination was 76 per cent followed by Delhi 70 per cent, Haryana 70 per cent, Arunachal Pradesh 68 per cent, Maharashtra 65 per cent, Himachal 59 per cent and Chandigarh 48 per cent.

In urban India, nearly 70 per cent of samples were found to be contaminated, compared with 31 per cent of samples in rural areas. Only two states - Goa and Pondicherry - sold unadulterated milk, while all 250 samples from four eastern states were found to be contaminated with detergents.

The snap shot survey was conducted with a view to identifying the common adulterants in milk in rural and urban areas in different states besides finding out the non-conforming samples in loose and packed forms throughout the country.

Reagents like salt and glucose are added to alter the thickness and viscosity. Adding starch prevents curdling of milk. Salt and detergents are added to adjust the lactometer reading to add thickness to the milk.

The survey has proved how authorities concerned had failed to check this blatant violation of the standards for milk in various states which is otherwise meant for strengthening bones, cardiovascular improvements and oral health.

The survey said that addition of water reduced the nutritional value of the milk. The contaminated water and detergents pose health risk indicating lack of hygiene and sanitation in milk handling. Immediate effect of drinking milk adulterated with urea, caustic soda and formalin is gastroenteritis but the long-term effects are far more serious.

“This is a crime; government should react on this issue immediately and take strict action against the companies indulging in adulteration. It is something which kills people slowly. The contaminated milk, which contains substances like detergents, caustic soda, and unsafe water give rise to incidence of various diseases in the valley. We have seen an increasing number of patients complain of food poisoning, gastric troubles and some other serious problems. It can even cause cancer,” the director, SK Institute of Medical Sciences, and noted Gastroenterologist, Dr Showkat Ahmad Zargar, told Kashmir Observer.

“People consuming adulterated food and contaminated milk develop some bizarre syndromes. When these substances go beyond concentration, people complain of disorders of gastrointestinal tract, including esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and biliary system. This is very harmful for pregnant women and can even affect the growth of the new born and children. It can give a new trend of diseases in our state,” Dr Zargar added.

Talking to Kashmir Observer, heath officer, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Dr Rubeena, said they had been examining certain samples of milk in which they had even banned the sale of milk produced by certain companies.

“During inspection and sampling, we found that some of the milk companies used caustic soda, unsafe water and synthetic substances, which can cause serious health problems,” Dr Rubeena said.

“Being a concerned health official dealing with all these things, I have given the report to the higher authorities and my role ended there. Now it is for the food commissioner and other authorities to take action against them,” said the health officer, when asked why the SMC had not taken any action against the companies found marketing adulterated milk.

“Daily Taaza milk supplied mostly to the army was banned recently. We moved very fast in the regard. Besides there are some unsafe and misbranded products as per the Act, they should get a clear cut ban,” Dr Rubeena said.

She said the sale of adulterated milk would be completely eradicated only with a joint effort of common people and the authorities. “We are introducing a new technology in the state shortly which will help the households to check the milk at their doorstep and also help the civic body to conduct more sampling in the market,” Dr Rubeena said.

Even after NGOs and other organizations in various Indian states have started raising eyebrows on the concerned agencies, the state government here seems to be ignorant about the contaminated milk being marketed with impunity, which is taking a heavy toll on the entire society without any discrimination.

“I don’t know about any survey and adulteration in milk products, I am hearing it from you,” Law and Parliamentary Affairs minister and senior National conference leader, Ali Muhammad Sagar, told Kashmir Observer.

Asked, what would be the immediate reaction from the government with regard to the companies involved in adulteration, Sagar said “Please give me a day, I will enquire into it and come to you with full details.”

Kashmir’s Poisonous White Revolution-JK’s Food Safety Agencies “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” For Years

Nazir Ganaie (Kashmir Observer)

Srinagar: Clueless that the constitutional morning cuppa in Kashmir is actually a delivery mechanism for disease, the state’s food safety agencies on Thursday switched into the Hum Dekhen Gey mode on reports of almost the entire milk supply in Jammu and Kashmir being contaminated.

While the deputy drug controller here has, according to his own admission to the Kashmir Observer today, been “conducting sampling of dairy products from time to time” but appears to have not even the faintest inkling of their safety and standards, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has found that 83 per cent of the milk consumed in Jammu and Kashmir is laced with hazardous contaminants.

The (FSSAI) has found that virtually every cup of tea grown-ups here have been taking for years, and every ounce of milk infants have been brought up on, is actually a deadly cocktail of detergents, soda, (even caustic soda), starch, and other unspecified synthetic substances, but all that the Srinagar Municipal Corporation has been able to do is ban one dairy producer, and remain understandably silent on the nature of its “violation of standards and norms.”

No one bothers to explain why possible “violations” by others – dairy companies, doorstep delivery boys, neighbourhood gojris – have been ruled out. The FSSAI findings, actually an indictment of the state’s food and drug safety agencies, have been confirmed in their deadly impact by no less an authority than the director of the SKIMS, Dr. Shaukat Ahmad Zargar, a gastroenterologist of international repute, and many of his colleagues, who have long been assailed by heavy incidence of serious health disorders traceable also to serious food contamination.

While the Drug Control Authority, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, and even the most powerful of ministers, have done a virtual-double take on the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) report, people in the dairy business point fingers, and trade associations demand action, both washing hands off an issue amounting to the slow poisoning of the valley.

It has taken an all-India survey to confirm what every housewife in Kashmir has always feared, but the state government’s food safety institutions appear to have been the classic “hear no evil, see no evil” lumps of lard capable only of knee-jerk reactions even on massive sale of sub-standard and spurious pharmaceuticals.

Food Adulteration: ‘Higher-Ups Sleep On Field Reports’

Nazir Ganaie (Kashmir Observer)

Srinagar: After the shocking revelations by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India that 83 per cent of milk produced and consumed in Jammu and Kashmir was contaminated with components like salt, detergents, caustic soda and several other harmful substances, the Drugs and Food Control Organization, Kashmir, Friday asserted 30 per cent of food items in the Valley were “highly adulterated,” while Kashmir alone consumed 75 per cent of contaminated milk.

“Kashmir consumes 30 per cent of adulterated food items - spices, biscuit, edible oil, salt, and many other eatables, which is shocking. Besides, the Valley people alone consume 75 per cent contaminated milk being produced by local companies,” public analyst/ designated officer, Drugs and Food Control Organization, Hamidullah Dar, alleged while talking to Kashmir Observer.

He said the food safety officers had been working in different districts and sub districts to check the menace of contamination and they had been collecting samples of milk from time to time, for which they had already sent reports to higher authorities to take action against the companies involved in adulteration.

“We collected samples from every corner of the valley and during their testing we found that out of eight samples, six were adulterated with starch, detergent and some synthetic substances,” Dar said, adding “In many other food and edible items, our experts found that turmeric and chili powder, sounp, sweets, ghee, pickles, oils, salt had been adulterated with toxic colors, starch with other harmful substances”.

He said his team had done the sampling and prepared the report before FSSI. Asked why he did not take action against the companies involved in contamination, Dar said, “As a concerned officer, my job is to frame the report and highlight the areas and companies involved in contamination and my work remains restricted to laboratory only, rest is the job of higher authorities.”

Reliable sources in the Drugs & Food Control Organization said contaminated products were a source of income for various law enforcement officials and other unscrupulous elements.

“Contamination is possible only when concerned administration officials adopt a non-serious approach towards the companies involved in the crime. Although lower rung officials do their job like sampling, testing and reporting their findings to the food commissioner and other authorities who, on their part more often than not prefer to look the other way. The chief minister should order appropriate action in the matter,” said a well placed official, wishing anonymity.

Refuting claims of the commissioner, Food Safety, that food inspectors had been asked to collect samples, sources revealed their earlier reports had been ignored.

“On August 5, 2011, we started sampling in different areas and all the food inspectors worked very hard, and then we found most of the products, milk as well as other eatables contaminated. We sent the report to the commissioner sahib, what happened to that, please ask him,” said the official.

Pertinently, Kashmir Valley alone produces 11.32 lakh tonnes of milk annually.

“If Omar Abdullah is serious in improving the health sector, he should not let people die. He should immediately check the menace of adulteration to bring down the incidence of diseases. But, they are busy in their own world,” said a senior citizen, Muhammad Abdullah of Budgam.

When contacted, Commissioner, Food Safety, Jammu and Kashmir, Satish Gupta, said he was looking into the report and would take action very soon. Then, he dropped the phone. When this reporter made attempts to ascertain his response to reports of drug inspectors about contamination of milk and other edible items already lying with him, the commissioner finally answered the call for a few seconds and said. “Right now there is no light here, we will talk tomorrow about this”.

Meanwhile, the director, Animal Husbandry, Kashmir, Dr Farooq Ahmad Kaloo, said, “I think majority of our milk producers in the state don’t even know about the harmful chemicals added to milk elsewhere in the country. Our milk producers, I mean the dairy farmers, are innocent. Their intelligence and knowledge is limited to water and water chestnut flour adulteration whereas outside they use urea, soaps, vegetable fat and even formalin. But this too has to be stopped immediately,” he said.

“Whatever milk we import, I do not hold a brief for that. My unit is not allowed to test the tankers of milk coming daily to Kashmir, which is another issue,” Dr Kaloo said.

Talking to Kashmir Observer, deputy commissioner, Srinagar, Baseer Ahmad Khan, said that they will soon take action against the companies involved in adulteration.

“On the priority basis, I had ordered constitution of three committees comprising experts from Health and Drug departments, SMC and others to monitor the markets and check the level of adulteration. We will not spare anybody found guilty in adulterating food items or milk,” he said, adding the officials had done video sampling of certain companies as well and once the report came these companies were going to have tough time.

Milk Scam: ‘Politicians Trying To Stall Action’

Nazir Ganaie (Kashmir Observer)

Srinagar: In a shocking revelation, the civic authorities here have accused politicians of attempting to prevent them from initiating punitive action against those allegedly found involved in adulteration of milk in the valley.

“For taking bold steps at the administrative level, one will have to go through a virtual hell at the hands of unscrupulous elements who would not hesitate in pressurizing an upright official against taking any action under law,” health officer of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Dr Rubeena, told Kashmir Observer.

Sources in the premier civic body in the state’s summer capital said the health officer was subjected to lot of harassment by certain politicians after she initiated legal action against a milk producer allegedly for violating food safety laws.

According to reports, the health officer, accompanied by a team of food safety officers and a police party from Pantha Chowk police station, had sealed the milk processing unit of M/S Daily Need Processing and Milk Products, at the Industrial Area, Khonmoh, on the city outskirts, engaged in selling pouched milk under the brand name of “TAAZA Milk”.

During routine inspection on December 8, some milk samples were taken from the plant in presence of the SMC health officer and after laboratory tests, it was found that the samples were contaminated.

“The sample contained thick layers of fat with black particles visible to the naked eye,” public analyst-cum-designated officer, Drugs and Food Control Organization, Hamidullah Dar, who had examined the sample, told Kashmir Observer, alleging the milk was misbranded and unsafe for human consumption.

He said the sample was found containing 4.5 per cent of fat in violation of the provision of Food Safety Act. “The sample contains foreign fat, as the butyro-refractometer reading more than 44 at 40 degree Celsius. Besides the sample wasn’t found labeled. So according to the provisions of FSSA rules 2011, as the date of package and batch is not given, you can take immediate action against the persons involved,” said the public analyst.

“I would appreciate the role of the civic authorities. In face of pressures, she managed to get the owner of TAAZA Milk Products prosecuted under the Food Safety Act, 2011,” he said.

When contacted, the SMC health officer, Dr Rubeena, refused to disclose the name of the politician for obvious reasons, but alleged she had been subjected to mental torture for initiating legal action against the accused milk producer and getting the company’s license, under the name of M/S Daily Need Processing and Milk Products, cancelled and its Jammu-based owner prosecuted. A senior Congress minister from Jammu also played a role in the matter, sources told Kashmir Observer.

Sources said it was due to the efforts of the public analyst and SMC health officer that the TAAZA Agro Farms, who supplied bulk of its production to the army here, was prosecuted allegedly for marketing highly contaminated milk in the valley.

A senior official in the SMC, wishing anonymity, said that the health officer was pressurized by the political circles over her bold step to close down the TAAZA milk plant here.

Talking to Kashmir Observer, Dr Rubeena said she would never succumb to the pressures from the political circles.

“I got so many pressures. I was harassed in meetings and even threatened but I didn’t budge in my resolve to discharge my duty in the larger interest of public health,” she said.

“For every honest administrator, I guess, these things come and they will come until they remain honest. I then took leave for a couple of days to relieve myself from the mental trauma I had gone through after I took the decision to close down the TAAZA plant,” she said.

Sources in the Drugs and Food Control Organization, revealed that the “political pressures” were largely responsible for the food and milk adulteration having assumed the dimension of a menace.

Milk is Toxic (Editorial in the Greater Kashmir)

Disturbing reports about large scale milk adulteration in J&K have caused genuine concern among the consumers. Apart from the waste of their money, the contamination of the white product poses a direct health hazard to the common man who apparently has little means to check the menace. Although the degraded quality of the milk has somehow become an acceptable phenomenon in the society given the slipshod approach of the authorities supposed to keep a check on it, the revelations by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are simply shocking.

The study conducted by the FSSAI has found that 83 per cent milk produced and consumed in J&K is contaminated. Shockingly, the substances found to have been blended with the milk include detergent, starch, soda, glucose and other synthetic materials making the milk highly harmful for human consumption. Such substances, any medical practitioner would say, contain toxic values which in the long run could deleteriously affect the health of a consumer by exposing him or her to disease ranging from gastroenteritis problems to multiple organ failures.

The study should serve as an opener for the government, which till now has seemingly not been so proactive in taking a call on this issue. Any casual approach in this regard would be criminal. As of now different government agencies either seem to be not clear about their role in checking the food adulteration or there seems some overlapping of the roles between them, something that gives them a reason to evade responsibility. Such an ambiguity needs to be cleared by strictly implementing the Food Safety and Standards Act. Interestingly, the Act provides for a separate department of Food Safety and appointment of a commissioner, Food Safety, for the state, along with some designated officers for districts. The law empowers the designated officers to issue/cancel licenses of food business operators, prohibit the sale of any article of food not subscribing to prescribed standards, etc, something that could really help check the food adulteration. So what the government is waiting for?

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