Not all urbanites have luxury of eating at homes because they have to work. They leave home early and stop by the roadside eateries or canteens for breakfast and lunch. Many others pick food items from street vendors who cook and sell on the carts and earn livelihood through such small enterprises. In a way, this benefits both the customers as well as the sellers for such food outlets are more affordable than high-end restaurants. They are good only as long as they serve healthy and hygienic food. But the report unveiled recently by Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection (DoCSCP) and Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), the government authorities mandated to look after consumers’ protection, shows that the food they serve is far from healthy and safe. It says that illegal business of food and medicine is rampant in the Kathmandu Valley and its adjoining locations largely because of weak monitoring by the government authorities.
DoCSCP slapped cash fine of Rs 200,000 on various eatery shops and pharmaceuticals for operating without licenses. According to the department, even the canteen in operation at the premises of the Ministry of Finance has not been following the government regulation. It had to fine Rs 50,000 against Catalyst Management Service, the canteen operator. It is not the eateries alone which run such businesses with abandon. Grocery stores, marts and even drug stores have been found to breach the government rules. The department has collected cumulative of Rs 445,000 in cash fines from the unscrupulous traders. These food and drug stores do not maintain the invoices to cheat the buyers or charge exorbitant prices. Likewise, a number of eatery shops in Tribhuvan Highway were found to run their business without receiving licenses. They had also failed to maintain proper hygiene and food quality. Total of 14 shops were found selling poor quality products, remaining 12 shops were found selling foods unfit for consumption.
We know why this happens and so do authorities like DoCSCP and DFTQC. The fact of the matter is that food outlets, drug stores and grocery stores indulge in this kind of activities because they do not fear the law and they do not take the inspecting bodies seriously. They know that market monitoring is usually seasonal—happening only during the festivals—and as soon as the festival seasons are over, monitoring and inspection nearly stops. The result of this is for all of us to see: They sell substandard goods or food and cheat the customers. Only way to control this serious offense to public health is to make the market monitoring and inspection regular and effective. These outlets need to feel that their activities can be monitored anytime and if they are found violating the law, they can be penalized anytime. This time around the government authorities entrusted to safeguard consumers’ protection themselves have found why such problems persist. They should know better how not to allow such incidents to recur.