Food poisoning cases, human-wildlife conflict: Opposition flays Kerala govt

V D Satheesan | Photo: PTI

The Congress-led UDF opposition on Wednesday alleged in the Kerala assembly that the 'incompetence and mismanagement' of the Left government was the reason for the food poisoning related deaths in the state.

Calling attention to the spate of food poisoning incidents in the state, the opposition claimed that recent events indicate that the LDF government has completely failed to implement the Food Safety Act.

The allegations were refuted by the state government with Health Minister Veena George contending that since the LDF government came to power in 2016, the number of inspections has increased manifold. She said over 50,000 inspections were carried out last year alone and the state government has now brought in stringent measures, like the 'Health Card' for employees of eateries certifying they are healthy and free of contagious diseases. Health cards would be mandatory from February 16 onwards and besides that, the state government has banned -- effective from February 1 -- the sale of food items without the "best before label", she said in the House in response to the issue raised by senior Congress leader and MLA Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan.

Radhakrishnan claimed in the House that the Food Safety and Health departments instead of working in a coordinated manner, are going their separate ways to deal with the issue. He also claimed that Kerala was number one in the country in food safety during the UDF rule and in 2022 it had slipped to the 6th position. "There have been a lot of deaths. The mismanagement and incompetence of Food Safety department are the reason for this. Even the public see that." The Congress MLA alleged that adulterated dairy products, like milk, and expired or rotten meat were freely entering Kerala from other states, which indicated a lack of checking at the borders. Moreover, with only three NABL accredited labs in the state, testing of collected samples gets delayed and proper results are not received, leading to the accused persons going scot free. He further claimed that thousands of cases related to violation of food safety norms were pending in courts and delay in test results due to lack of sufficient labs were also resulting in the accused getting away without any punishment.

George acknowledged the prosecution related concern raised by the senior Congress leader and said that it has been decided to appoint a dedicated law officer in the Food Safety Commissioner's office to address that issue. She also said that implementing the Food Safety Act was a priority of the government for which it has recruited more officials, created a Special Task Force and was going to bring in a system for online monitoring of the complaints, action taken, etc. The minister said that when the next survey is conducted by the Centre, Kerala would surely be at the number one spot in food safety.

The Opposition also slammed the government for its alleged lack of a proper plan to address the increasing incidents of man-animal conflict in areas bordered by forests in the state.

Sharply criticising the LDF government for waiting for a study report to decide on the further course of action, the opposition staged a walkout after its demand to adjourn the House and discuss the issue was rejected by Speaker A N Shamseer.

The adjournment motion was denied after Kerala Forest Minister A K Saseendran said that officials of his department were working day and night to deal with the wildlife attacks in human settlements close to the forests. He also said that the government was taking steps to protect agriculture close to forested areas by culling thousands of wild boars, which were destroying farmlands. The government will conduct a scientific study to find out ways to prevent man-wildlife conflict in the state. He also submitted that more than 600 people have died in wild animal attacks in the state in the last five years.

Slamming the Left government for waiting for a scientific study to decide further course of action, Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state assembly V D Satheesan said that it indicates that the state administration has done nothing till now and has no plan or project to address the plight of those living close to forested areas.

"The rising threat of wild animal attacks is affecting at least 30 percent of Kerala’s population. Over one lakh of the tribal population residing under 725 settlements are among the affected. When a considerable section of the population is living under constant fear of animal attacks, the minister opined that there is no necessity to discuss this issue in the assembly," said VD Satheesan.

He said that people, including farmers, residing in areas close to forests are living in constant fear for their lives and property as attacks by elephants, tigers and other wild animals were on a rise. He said that there were not enough solar energy fences, which are being implemented in some villages in the Kannur and Idukki districts, and no other preventive measures, such as bio fencing, were being taken by the government. The wild jumbos will not return to forests by conducting high-level meetings, he ridiculed.

The LoP and his UDF colleagues also contended, in the assembly, that the state government has not even compensated farmers who lost crops due to wild animal attacks and that it was about time it woke up to the issue of man-animal conflicts. The LoP claimed that there were insurance policies for the same, but the state government has not even considered them.

"We are surprised and amazed at the stand taken by the government. We are objecting to it and in protest I and my party are walking out," said Satheesan. Similarly, other Congress allies in the opposition UDF also staged a walkout. Kerala has been witnessing an increase in threats from wild animals, especially elephants and tigers.

He also cited the lack of facilities available at the department of forest and pointed out that the forest watchers are not paid enough in the state.

With PTI inputs

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