Hospital lab technicians deputed to test food samples

Hospital lab technicians deputed to test food samples

Ad-hoc appointments meant to mislead High Court, confides official

Srinagar: The Drug and Food Safety Organisation (DFCO) has deputed hospital lab technicians, trained in urine and blood examination, for testing food samples at its Srinagar food laboratory. As per sources, the DFCO instead of appointing staff for the food laboratory has posted medical lab technicians on deputation there to mislead the J&K High Court.
“It is eyewash. The matter is in the High Court as part of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The department (DFCO) had been directed to appoint requisite staff and file compliance report in the court,” sources in the health department said.
The J&K Health Department has recently deputed four medical laboratory technicians to the Food Testing Laboratory at Dalgate to analyse food samples. The technicians were deputed days after the High Court slammed the department for not complying with its directions.
“These technicians were working in different hospital labs under the Health Department. Now they are being asked to analyse food samples even though they have no knowledge or experience in the work,” said a health official, wishing anonymity.
He said all the four lab technicians appointed in the food laboratory had a bachelors or equivalent degree in medical laboratory technology, which is not even distantly equivalent to the BSc in Food Technology or Dairy Technology required to become a Food Lab Technician.
As per official data, only four employees were originally appointed for the Food Testing Laboratory in Dalgate including a senior lab technician, assistant public analyst, lab assistant and lab attendant. The others were posted there simply to mislead the High Court.
“The others have been deputed there as two food analysts, four lab technicians and four food safety officers. They are working either on ad-hoc or deputation basis,” the official said.
Earlier this year, the government had issued a notification asking two food safety officers to work as ‘notified food analysts’ till they are appointed permanently.
“The notified food analysts have been left without power and accountability as they working on ad-hoc basis, despite having the requisite qualification and experience,” said an administrator.
The DFCO deputed field staff, including four food safety officers, from the Health Department and DFCO at the food lab to augment its staff strength. The postings were made after High Court directions in May. The deputation has created shortage in the field and put extra burden on the food safety officers posted in different departments.
In May, a division bench of Chief Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey had directed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to depute a qualified person to the food laboratories to find out whether they fulfilled requirements under the Food Safety and Standards Act.
Controller Food and Drugs Lotika Khajuria said it was a national norm to recruit laboratory staff on deputation basis.
“It’s not necessary that Food Lab Technicians have the required qualification. In case of urgency, we can post any science graduate in the lab and give them on-job training,” she said.
“Food Analysts are notified to work in the lab as they were trained in Food Analysis by virtue of their qualification and experience,” she said.
The Controller also played down the staff shortage and said the department was not doing anything wrong. “We are following the norm that is prevalent in the whole of India. J&K is not a special case,” she said.
The shortage of field staff is acute in J&K, with 36 posts of Food Safety Officers, meant to supervise the food sold in markets, are lying vacant.

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