Govt officials surprisingly lenient toward key players of ‘expired chocolates scam’

Published On: October 5, 2020 10:40 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Officials let go the eight individuals arrested by police after raids on three houses full of expired food items in Kalanki since Thursday 

KATHMANDU, Oct 5: In recent crackdowns on the racket selling expired chocolates and biscuits, among other food items, the police have confiscated a large amount of such food stored in a number of houses in Kalanki and Bafal areas of the Kathmandu Valley in the past few days. 

The latest incidents have raised concerns that such malpractices could have been in place for a long time, posing risk to the consumers’ health. It shows that the unscrupulous traders, just for the sake of making money, have been insensitive even to the health of children who are the main consumers of chocolates, potato chips and cream-stuffed biscuits. 

A series of raids carried out by the police since Thursday has shown that a large amount of expired packaged foods are being sold under popular brands like Oreo, Snickers and Pringles, among others, after replacing the labels on their wrappers. On Sunday, too, a team of police from the Kalimati Metropolitan Police Circle raided a house in Kathmandu Metropolitan City-14, seizing a huge cache of expired chocolates, bakery items and flour, ready to sell at the local market.

But the government’s regulatory bodies are found even more irresponsible in the matter as they are letting go the main accused without conducting thorough investigations. The Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection that has the  responsibility to protect the consumers’ welfare, instead of taking stern action, has released the eight accused nabbed in Thursday’s raid.

Among the arrested, Raunak Brotha of Ayan International and Pushpa Devi Agrawal of Amazon Distributors are reported to have a tie up with Vishal Group, one of the established business conglomerates of Nepal that is authorized to import the aforementioned packaged foods. 

But the department has released the accused without any valid reasons. According to the department source, the regulator has released the accused without taking any action, just because the unethical traders cried in front of the officials and claimed they had health problems. 

A source at the department, however, said that the high officials of the department might have faced pressure from influential business groups to make unjust decisions. 

Vishal Group, however, has defended that it has no connection with the recently arrested smugglers. Issuing a public notice on Sunday, the business conglomerate said that it put into rigorous watch the entire supply chain of its imported goods, so as to avoid the selling of expired products. Earlier, Vishal Group had even fallen into controversy for luring the officials of the Ministry of Finance to manipulate provisions in the budget for its favor. 

Netra Prasad Subedi, director general of the Commerce Department, however dismissed the allegation stating that they have not faced any sort of pressure from either the high ranking government officials or any business organization. “We have not given complete leeway to the arrested. Rather, we have started taking their statements in order to start the legal process,” Subedi told Republica. 

Madhav Timilsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said the government should not have a soft corner for wrongdoers responsible for posing risks to a large number of consumers. “A number of laws provide sufficient room to the authorities to take stern action against the guilty in this incident,” he added. 

Timilsina demanded that the government form a dedicated team for investigation into the case to find out the key players of the ‘expired food scam’. 

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