Saturday, April 13, 2013


India is a large country with 1.2 billion plus population with diverse culture and economic standards. Any thing to be done on a pan-India scale is fraught with insurmountable problems and only dedication, commitment, perseverance and high investment can show positive result at the ground level. In spite of good intentions and massive investments, the income gap between the rich and the poor is widening and poor people in the country are increasingly being mired in endless miseries and agony which do not seem to give them much hope about their future. Food is an area where the country has done reasonably well, at least with regard to production of staple grains like wheat and rice. Of course the story of oil seeds and pulses is one of many missed opportunities and billions of rupees are being spent to bring these foods from out side the country every year. The onus on the government to protect the food supply is indeed awesome and the special purpose vehicle created for the country's food safety is still in its formative stage trying to prove its mettle during the last 5 years. Unfortunately this outfit under the name Food Standards and Safety Authority (FSSAI) has been created with a heavy bureaucratic structure with doubtful capability for showing any dynamism at the ground level. As this agency is heavily dependent on the state governments with no authority to enforce its writ, the policies often do not get implemented. Here is a take on this important area of concern to the Indian citizen, viz how food is the food taken by him!
The agency is working to bring on board about 55 million people engaged in various food businesses and register them with the organisation by February 2014, Chandramouli said. Currently, only one million licences have been issued to food and beverage operators. To check and maintain food standards, FSSAI is in the process of setting up testing laboratories, he said. "Our aim is to have at least one laboratory in each state initially. Later, we plan it to increase this to at least one lab for every 20 districts in the next five years," he added. There are currently 72 government laboratories, which are to be upgraded during this period. Simultaneously, 33 new such testing centres will be set up. On food imports, Chandramouli said: "Our country imports lot of food items now. Though there is no fixed figure available, but Rs2-3 lakh crore of foods come to India every year." "We don't have food and safety standards in the country which deal with food products across the spectrum. For this, we need to get the state governments and other stakeholders on board," Chandramouli said, adding implementation of the FSSAI Act continues to remain a challenge".

The above report laments about lack of allocation of funds to FSSAI during the 12th Plan and one is afraid that this could as well become an excuse for non-performance or under performance.It is common knowledge that the quality of food made in India and imported at great cost is suspect because of grossly under developed infrastructure and shortage of critical personnel to run the monitoring program sincerely and effectively. With legal system delaying trials of food fraudsters for years, many are able to get away with blatant violations of existing laws and wide spread adulteration.  One of the excuses trotted out for under performance is lack of standards available to enforce but this argument cannot be sustained when it is realized that international standards under FAO-WHO as well by different global organizations are in place for thousands of foods which can easily be adopted till domestic-specific ones are evolved. FSSAI seems to be over obsessed with licensing and wants more than 55 million food handlers to be brought into its licensing system! Is it practical? What next after registration? Does it have adequate capability to undertake surveillance of these players regularly? Millions of home scale processors, cottage units and micro enterprises cannot be expected to register with FSSAI which is both time consuming and cumbersome. Since the retailers who sell the food articles are all licensed by local civic authorities, it is easier to make them accountable vis-a-vis quality of food sold by them. The onus of selling safe food must be put on these retailers who must be punished if he peddles bad food even unintentionally. Such an environment will starve the fraudsters of a market eventually. No doubt a body like FSSAI is a necessity for the country but it must be made to work hard and diligently for the welfare of the common man.  

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