FDA has started awareness programmes on hygienic practices in food, especially in street food. How are we tackling it given that there are thousands of hawkers in the state?
We have taken it up on a large scale in the last one year. We took workshops of food safety officers first and have trained 20,000 street hawkers across Maharashtra. We are tying up with private companies as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. In Pune, Coca-Cola provided vans to train hawkers on hygienic practices during cooking. Now, with Nestle we have conducted 90 training sessions covering 1,800 hawkers. We have shortage of manpower, so we cannot fully devote our time to street food hawkers.
What are the key challenges you need to address in FDA?
One of my priorities is to submit a proposal to the Maharashtra government to make it compulsory for restaurants to label calories of food items. People should be aware of what they are consuming. We also have a challenge to ensure continuous revenue collection to meet budgets. There are a few major proposals we have moved for that. One of them is to register cosmetic and ayurvedic retailers. We have also moved a proposal for fee hike to register drug manufacturers. Apart from these, FDA has a vast jurisdiction. Food and milk adulteration are constant issues we need to look into.
Does FDA face issues when it has to coordinate with other government agencies?
At times, it is not a priority for them. But civic bodies do respond as we are also a government organisation requesting their support. In our attempt to sensitise street food hawkers about hygiene, we will come across issues of licensing, water supply and sanitation that hawkers face. We will need the support of civic bodies to address them.
Spurious cosmetic sale is a major concern, especially because consumers can’t differentiate between fake and original. How are we addressing that?
The most common practice in spurious cosmetics is to buy original bottles from garbage dealers and refill them with fake product. We come across several such cases. The spurious market is huge. We already register and monitor manufacturers of cosmetics. We have also moved a proposal to start registration of retailers selling cosmetics. This will bring them under our purview. The law and judiciary has approved our proposal, it will now go to the central government. We are also going to meet cosmetic manufacturers to discuss if they can create a seal or change packaging for their bottles so that it can be destroyed after first use. This will end the practice of reusing branded bottles.
Maharashtra is at the forefront in pushing for regulation in e-cigarettes.
We did request the central government to consider regulating e-cigarettes. Several countries have prohibited its use, some have legalised it. The Drug Controller General of India, Delhi, noted that liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes does not come under its ambit. So now we have moved a proposal to ask the government if we can categorise chemicals used in e-cigarettes as pesticides, and ban it. We are trying to bring in some regulation through different means. It will take time.
The central government has proposed amendments to the Drug and Cosmetics Act to permit e-pharmacy. What is Maharashtra’s stand on it?
The final draft is up for public suggestions. Until e-pharmacy becomes legal, we will continue to take action against web portals selling drugs through online platforms. There are several issues that need to be addressed. If a website is sending drugs from another state, how will the state FDA control it? Maharashtra FDA has already been taking action against major web portals selling drugs online in the state. Our action has reduced e-pharmacy sales in the state.
How are we addressing the issue of vacancies in food and drug inspectors?
When I joined, there was huge vacancy in posts of food safety officers. We have filled 46 posts from the Maharashtra Public Service Commission since and 33 have just been appointed through the municipal corporation. There is no vacancy in food safety officers currently. But for drug officers, there is an ongoing High Court case that has halted further appointments. We have appealed to the court to speed it up. We have also written to the finance department to increase the number of sanctioned posts for food and drug safety officers.