Plans to bring all the hotels and restaurants of Dhaka under a grading system according to their standards have not seen any progress in two years. Regular supervision to monitor the quality of food and environment of them has also been limited to a few nominal drives.
In early 2019, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) started the move by grading 56 hotels and restaurants according to its standards, so that consumers could understand the quality of the environment and food by looking at the grades.
A BFSA official told The Business Standard that the organisation did not have enough manpower to conduct and monitor grading activities. As a result, the plan made no progress in two years.
"The excitement among consumers about grading hotels and restaurants at the beginning of the move has also gradually faded," the official added.
BFSA grades hotels and restaurants in four categories. The best quality restaurants are considered as A plus, the lesser ones are considered as A, average quality hotels are considered as B grade. Hotels and restaurants of very poor quality are given C grade with one month's notice.
The BFSA has so far graded only 87 hotels and restaurants in two years. Of these, 19 are A Plus, 55 are A, nine are B and four have been under C grade. The process of the grading of 15 more new hotels and restaurants is underway.
However, Mohammad Imran Hossain Mollah, monitoring officer of BFSA, said that the restaurants that had been graded were not being monitored regularly due to the manpower crisis.
"These restaurants are not being monitored as they should be. They are supposed to be monitored regularly through mobile courts. And if you do not obey the law, you will have to pay a fine. That is not happening properly," he said.
The Food Safety Authority was set up in February 2015 under the Food Safety Act 2013 to prevent food adulteration and to control the quality of food. The agency has jurisdiction to conduct mobile courts and punish those violating the rules pertaining to the production and sale of food.
According to sources, only 60 mobile courts operated in the capital from July to 21 December last year. At the time, 73 hotels and restaurants were fined Tk87 lakh on various charges, and two persons were jailed.
The Food Safety Authority has filed 120 cases in 64 districts in the last five years. The company has so far operated 261 mobile courts.
Ruhul Amin Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association, said, "There are about 60,000 hotels and restaurants in the country. Of these, around 10,000 are in Dhaka."
Inside the best graded restaurants
Cafe Baishakhi, a restaurant located opposite the National Press Club in the capital, has been graded A by the BFSA. A visit to the restaurant on a Friday afternoon found that only one of the three cooks was wearing proper clothes. The rest were cooking in ordinary clothes.
Cooked food was kept in different containers without any covering on them while flies were hovering around. The three persons who were serving the food were wearing certain kinds of clothes but none of them wore masks on the face or had gloves on the hands.
"We want to run the restaurant according to the rules because we also eat this food. But we cannot always follow the rules. Another thing that I have realised is that the law is not the same for everyone. The law must be properly enforced," said Tanvir Ahmed, manager of Café Baishakhi.
When grading activities were initially undertaken, there was much more monitoring. But now such activities had declined, he added.
Khana Basmati Restaurant, located opposite the north gate of Baitul Mukarram Mosque, also earned an A grade. A monitor is installed inside the restaurant so that consumers can have views of the kitchen through a CCTV camera.
Two of the four cooks were dressed properly but the other two were in plain everyday clothes without gloves and masks. The cooked food was not even covered. The waiters wore special uniforms but did not have masks on their faces or gloves on their hands.
Kaiser Habib, manager of Khana Basmati, said, "Today is Friday. Many have come to eat after prayers. The waiters did not get a chance to wear their prescribed clothing and safety equipment due to the rush of customers. This does not happen very often. We try to run the business according to the rules. We have a reputation in providing good food."
However, a few hotels and restaurants with A-plus ranking, including Kasturi Restaurant and Handi and such A-graded restaurants as Food Lab Restaurant and Cafe at the corner of Dainik Bangla were seen cooking and serving food in a very clean environment.
Md Kayowm Sarker, chairman of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, told The Business Standard, "The process of grading hotels and restaurants is underway. Several organisations are being checked and selected. They will be given grading together. The quality of many restaurants that got grades earlier has gone down. They will be downgraded."
"The BFSA is working on a law called Restaurant Rules. This law will be enacted soon so that everyone can be brought under this law," he added.
Consumers can complain via Facebook
There is an option for consumers to place complaints against hotels and restaurants that do not comply with the rules by writing to the BFSA and visiting the agency's Facebook page.
Imran Hossain Molla, monitoring officer of the BFSA, said, "We get few written complaints. Most complaints are placed on our Facebook page. The process of making a written complaint takes much time."
However, the BFSA authorities could not tell The Business Standard how many complaints had been lodged in the last one year.
Meanwhile, the Food Safety Authority had been expected to pilot an app called Nazar in 64 districts by 2019 to oversee hotel-restaurant monitoring activities. The launch of the app has also come to a halt. At present, only five hotels and restaurants are running the app. ***