When Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was created with great fanfare, it was expected that food industry in India could deal with one single government agency from licensing to product monitoring. It is another matter that what the industry got was a thoroughly bureaucratized top heavy obese organization with no technical expertise to carry out the awesome task of protecting the citizens from fraudulent practices by some of the unscrupulous segment of the food processing industry which is bent on making a fast buck ignoring the health perils posed by their sub-standard and unsafe products. Honest industry players who want to play strictly by the rule books are unnecessarily harassed as seen recently by the brutal action to ban a particular brand of noodles based on unreliable and questionable test results. To add to the burden posed by FSSAI, another irritant has been introduced by way of bringing another government agency viz Bureau of Indian Standards "BIS" to approve tin plate quality. Here is a take on this latest development against which the industry is protesting.
"The Bureau of Indian Standards' (BIS) quality control order on tin plates issued in April will affect India's metal packaging industry of around Rs 5,000 crore. The Draft Steel Quality Control orer includes 'Cold Reduced Electrolytic Tinplate', an import component used in packing baby food, milk power, mango pulp, coffee among other edible and non edible items. Industry body Metal Container Manufacturers Association (MCMA) feels that the order, which will come into force by next month, needs to be reviewed as it will impact the metal packaging industry, which employs over a lakh people. According to MCMA President Sanjay Bhatia tin can is an "industrial product and not an item of mass consumption". Industry consumes around 550,000 tonnes of tin mill products (tinplate/tinfree steel etc), of which about 60 per cent is prime and 40 per cent non-prime. Domestic availability is about 325,000 tonnes and the balance is imported from different countries such as Japan, Korea, Brazil, Europe, USA, China, Venezuela, etc. "The firms in these countries follow rigorous global quality control orders and since we do not import large quantities they will not take pains to get BIS certification, which will impact us as we will not get good material at competitive rates," Bhatia told PTI. Prime material is mainly required for edible products like processed food, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, edible oil etc while non-prime (secondaries arising out of Prime) are required for non-edible products such as in packing of paints, industrial oils among others. "The order brings a non-tariff barrier in order to protect the domestic producers, but the production in the country is not sufficient enough to meet the demand of the industry both in terms of volume as well as grades," he countered. In certain applications industry requires continuous annealed material, high precision shearing in terms of squareness for products like battery jackets, scroll tinplate sheets which the domestic producer is not in a position to supply, he said. "We have approached the Prime Minister's Office, Steel Ministry, Commerce Ministry, Ministry of Medium and Small Enterprises with our demand. A similar order had come in 2007-08 and the government had taken it back. We are hopeful that something can happen this time as well," he added. The order will also reduce the competitive strength of metal packaging industry as it is likely to result in increase in cost of raw material involved in BIS marking fees and other related expenses as compared to other packaging material like plastic, paper, glass, Bhatia said."
It is unfortunate that bureaucracy in the country is trying again to overlord the manufacturing sector putting such types of hurdles reminding one of the old days of "inspector raj". Sympathize with poor Prime Minister who is talking day in and day out about strengthening the industry by removing impediments so that his "Make in India" dream takes off in a big way. Probably he has not reckoned with the vice-like grip of bureaucracy in this country which does not see any thing beyond its self interest-that is wielding power without accountability. Why should there be any standards set by BIS when tha responsibility of food standards management is vested with FSSAI? Industry has a case when they are protesting against such arbitrary policy decisions affecting their functioning in a serious way. It is not that BIS is inferior to FSSAI as both organizations are epitome of inefficiency and unreliability when it comes to protecting the consumer. Ultimately industry has to blame itself for its subservient attitude to babus in the government by their behavior bordering on sycophancy! It must stand up with no fear or favor from the government for causes which are right and sensible.