Wednesday, June 19, 2013


The big paper tiger in India viz the Food Standards and Safety Authority (FSSAI) has a knack of projecting themselves in the public as the "savior" of Indian citizen by promulgating "tons" of "laws". These laws, on paper, look excellent, comparing well with the best in the world. Unfortunately this "toothless" tiger can only roar and cannot bite as has been proved in case after case during the last two years! As the system of governing in India is based on a federal and decentralized regime, all central laws can be implemented only by the constituent states which are supposed to have the wherewithal to enforce them. Recent ban on Gutka in more than two dozen states as per direction of FSSAI is a typical example of bringing a law which cannot be implemented because of the ill equipped and grossly insufficient enforcement infrastructure currently existing in these states. This ban on manufacture and sale of gutka, an arecanut-tobacco mixture under different brand names is based on the perception by FSSAI which considers chewing it regularly as a causative factor for cancer and other health problems. Every state is feeling the pinch in enforcing this ban sincerely because of their understaffed food vigilance departments and they know pretty well that such personnel cannot be produced overnight qualitatively and in required numbers. Here is a commentary on this sorry situation vis-a-vis food law enforcement in the country and no one seems to be too much concerned about.   

"Meanwhile, the Health department, officials said, has approached the Home department for help to implement the ban. According to M Madan Gopal, Principal Secretary to the Health and Family Department, they had requested the Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG&IGP) to ensure that police personnel across the State apprehend those selling gutka.  When the ban on smoking in public spaces was implemented, we got the co-operation of the police department. Similarly, we are seeking their co-operation to implement the gutka ban," Gopal said. The Health department has also sought the support of urban local bodies (ULBs) and orders are being issued by the Urban Development department to chief officers of the ULBs to implement the ban. Currently, the State government has sealed all gutka manufacturing units in Karnataka. On alternative employment for those working in the manufacturing units, the State has asked the owners to shift production to non-tobacco or non-nicotine based arecanut products.  The State government has said there will be no impact of the gutka ban on arecanut growers in the State. Horticulture department principal secretary M K Shankarlinge Gowda said the areca grown in the State is never utilised in the manufacture of gutka. "We are likely to see only a small percentage of arecanut growers who may be impacted by the gutka ban. But, they can change their land use to plantations or other such activities. The arecanut used in the manufacture of gutka is the reject of the actual arecanut," he said. Most of the arecanut used in the manufacture of gutka comes from outside the country and only 25 per cent is from the State. On the Gorakh Singh Committee report, Gowda said the measures recommended in the report had already been taken and farmers in Chikmagalur and Shimoga are being encouraged to grow alternative crops. On loan waiver, Gowda said only those loans obtained from co-operative societies by arecanut growers can be waived of". 

Another dimension to the problem is the economic impact of banning gutka making on the areca farmers who have thousands of acres cultivating this crop for decades making a living. What were the governments at Delhi and at the state level were doing all these years to discourage areca cultivation in the country, is a question begging for an answer. Even during early nineteen sixties there were serious debates regarding the relevance of this crop to the country and serious suggestions were being made to chop them off to be replaced with healthy and nutritional crops like coconuts. Paradoxically arecanut cultivation doubled during the last 15 years and nothing concrete was done by the country which contributed to the present crisis situation! Even now it is not too late to take a long term view and persuade areca farmers to replace this crop with other commercial crops like coconuts, by offering incentives and compensations over a period of time that will rehabilitate them economically.   


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