The trader involved in the cooking oil adulteration case has been let off with Rs. 2 lakhs penalty for his crime by a ruling yesterday of the Court of Adjudicating Officer (Food Safety) and Additional District Magistrate, Imphal East. The trading company, M/S Ajay Traders, owned by one Mulchand of Thangal Bazar, it may be recalled was caught red handed in the midst of his crime on June 9 earlier this year during a raid at their godown at Khambam Lamkhai by a joint team of the Food Safety and Narcotics, and Affairs of Border. Quite surprisingly, the case remained a low key affair all the while, though nobody would have any doubt the crime is frightening, perhaps even more so than all the gun violence the state put together. For one, this is an indiscriminate assault with nobody in particular as target but everybody in general as the target. The unwritten doctrine of business being what it is, the motto too would have been `the more the merrier`. Children, men, women, athletes on gruelling exercise regime to shape their bodies, ailing senior citizens, nursing mothers…, anybody would do, so long as profit is assured.
The second reason why this crime should be considered more dangerous than the overt gun violence the state has been witnessing is that while the latter variety of crimes, heinous and condemnable as they may be, are at least open about their intent. Perpetrators of these crimes as well as their victims are unlikely to be under any illusion these acts are not punishable under the law of the land, and indeed they are committed in defiance of the law. Unlike this, the former criminals are wolves in sheep clothings, therefore their crimes can penetrate much deeper into the lives of ordinary citizens. Mustard oil was what the trader was systematically adulterating and selling to unsuspecting customers. This cooking oil being popular in Manipur, the extent of the population of the state who would have been exposed to the risk to health and life with the blessing of this trading company is only to be imagined. From our own readings of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act & Rules (as on 1.10.2004), the penalties for such crimes can be far more severe. It can be imprisonment for a few years to even life. Yet, our courts are honourable and must know better why such criminals deserve to be let off so leniently. The ruling is even kind enough to show the criminal the official routes to return to his business again. The Rs. 2 lakh penalty under the circumstance, to the laymen on the streets, would have seemed like an unqualified pronouncement of innocence. In the oil business, the amount would probably be considered even cheaper than peanuts devotees feed to the monkeys at the Mahabali Hanuman temple on the banks of the Imphal River each day.
Even more confounding is the fact that the case remained subdued even in terms of media coverage. There were few press statements from the officials about the progress of the case in all the four months which elapsed after the raid on the godown, and few pressmen too seemed keen to sniff for follow up stories. The IFP did carry some more, but they too were tame, largely because concerned officials were not too eager to divulge information. One of the reasons is, like everybody else, the media too are easily sidetracked by the more overt and sensational incidents of gun violence which have become the state`™s staple. The routine grenades left at people`™s gates, obviously to intimate and make those ostensibly protected by these gates part with money, and the daily empty rants and mudslinging of politicians, continued to hog the headlines, while more sinister crimes, such as this food adulteration case, ended up obscured from public view and consciousness. It must be admitted this is a weakness of the state media, and one which the fraternity must fight and overcome so as to deserve the lofty responsibility of being the watchdogs of the society which the public have entrusted them so generously.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam