In Public Interest

Obviously, the honourable High Court has given the state government a large benefit of doubt in entertaining the possibility of mutton being sold under categories at designated rates in Kashmir. But the bench cannot be faulted for following logical procedures in addressing a public issue, and has therefore correctly first sought answers from the administration on several counts. The government’s formal response is necessary for the record to enable the Court to rule according to a stated factual position – provided officials involved do not obfuscate the issue in usual bureaucratic circumlocution. The High Court’s directives to the divisional commissioner Kashmir and the head of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) department have come over a public interest petition seeking credible checks on food adulteration. Among the several queries raised by the HC are whether mutton is being categorised for sale in the market, and if so, whether the commodity is being sold at rates fixed according to category. This, by any standards, is an extravagant assumption to make. To assume that Kashmir’s government machinery involved in everyday public issues like price control, quality checks, food safety, drug standards etc follows systems devised around delivering public benefit is to presume utopia. For the best part, the government machinery is propped on established structures of payoffs, nexus, and gratification, to the benefit of all concerned, except what is known as the general public.

Institutions interested in streamlining administrative mechanisms for responsibility and accountability cannot be unaware of the roaring trade in duplicates, be it pharmaceuticals, electrical goods and components, automobile spares and packed food items. Recent reports of an extensively used antibiotic being supplied in sub-standard form are only the tip of the iceberg in the highly lucrative pharmaceutical trade. That this lethal business should have gone unchecked for so long is a commentary on the efficiency and probity of the state’s drug control authority, and an apt indicator of how other such government agencies work. As proved conclusively by the fate of a central report on massive milk adulteration in Kashmir, violators have powerful political patrons and can literally get away with murder. The courts could not have failed to notice that absolutely nothing has happened on the explosive milk adulteration report of over a year ago, even when some officer designated as the state’s food safety commissioner popped up at an opportune time to declare that identities of the adulterating dairy producers would be obtained from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India which had conducted the tests. It is a widely known fact that figures at the very top of the state’s political spectrum have financial and partnership stakes in widely-selling milk brands. Ergo the hush-up. Ditto for mutton. It is not mere happenstance that retailers have been charging Rs 40 to Rs 70 extra per kg of the commodity over and above the supposedly government-fixed rate of Rs 280. Surely, it should not have fallen to the lot of the High Court to remind the government of having regular market checking squads to monitor the sale and rates of mutton and other commodities. Now that it has, it remains to be seen what move the mafia’s political patrons make.

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