Sunday, September 23, 2012


The reputation of India as a lethargic, foot dragging mammoth, incapable of taking vital decisions in time or executing developmental projects with 100-500% time and cost overrun, is increasingly being felt world over. More importantly a sense of frustration and desperation is slowly creeping among the masses because of the paralysis visible in the government circles in spite of the vast potential the country has in scaling new heights and achieving unparalleled laurels. Take for instance the case of food quality and safety related administration in the country. The following excerpts from a recent report about the travails of the industry and the consumers in the food sector due to ill panned moves by the government to steamroll its callous policy on the country without anticipating its adverse impact, amply illustrate the above point.

Twenty-one Members of the Parliament from Tamil Nadu have signed a petition urging the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad to address "shortcomings" in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSA) 2006. The Act established the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSA) as a statutory body coming under the Health Ministry for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and regulating manufacturing, processing, distribution, sale and import of food. The petition was the result of a campaign undertaken by Tamil Nadu Foodgrains Merchants Association, which met all the 40 MPs from the State at New Delhi recently and highlighted the adverse impact the Act could have on farmers and small food business operators. Addressing a press conference in Madurai on Tuesday, association president S.P. Jeyapragasam said that rules and regulations of the FSA were heavily influenced by multinational companies and domestic corporates who dominated the 123-member committee formed to frame the standards under the Act. He also noted that this committee was dissolved by the Supreme Court on February 2011. Even M.S. Swaminathan, the Rajya Sabha MP known widely as the 'Father of the Green Revolution,' whom the delegation met in New Delhi, concurred with the traders' opinion and voiced his concern with the Union Health Minister. The Act, which replaced the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, levied penalties in the range of Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh besides prescribing jail terms ranging between six months to 10 years. Further, it had retained the standards set in 1954 for most of agricultural food produce though farming practices and the environment had undergone a sea change since then. "While we welcome the intentions of the Act to provide quality and hygienic food to the public and coming down heavily on adulterated food, its rules and regulations are impractical. The Act was framed in 2006 but notified in 2011 and yet, the Government did not utilise the five intervening years to crate awareness among the business community." He also noted that Tamil Nadu was being considered as being in the forefront of implementing the Act by officials in New Delhi even as several States were yet to establish the offices for implementing agencies. Further, Mr. Jeyapragasam said, the standards of food produce would surely vary from region to region and sometimes within the region itself depending upon rains or lack of it, fixing one quality for all was not a practical move. The association also urged the Central Government to rectify the various "anomalies" in the Food Safety Act 2006.

No one doubts the intention of the policies and objectives of the Government agency concerned. However sheer callousness, shoddy drafting, lack of understanding about the dynamics of Indian food industry landscape, inebriated by the enormous power conferred on the agency, ill qualified people doing the job and the mindless insensitivity to the sufferings of the citizens have created a situation which may result in eventual collapse of the micro enterprises and small and medium scale food industries. What would be the consequences of such an eventuality? Probably people in Delhi have neither the time nor the inclination to think about such "mundane" things as they are more busy "handling" the various "scams" created during the last one decade!


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