Friday, October 2, 2015

The "Chicken is coming to roost" for FSSAI-Industry up in arms against this reckless "Authority" with no accountability

When Government of India conceded the demand from the food industry to consolidate the functions of different food regulatory agencies under its wings for reducing the red tapism and delays encountered by them hampering its growth, there was relief all around that better days were ahead for them. Alas, this hope has been totally belied if one goes by the actions and omissions of the new entity created in 2011 under the exalted name of Food Safety and standards Authority of India (FSSA) which is headed by bureaucrats right from the beginning leaving out technical experts who could have made a lot of difference in its functioning. This Blogger published almost half a dozen articles questioning the credentials of the new set up during the last 5 years and now comes the clinching support for his stand from the Supreme Court and the the industry captains as reported recently. Read further: 

"Angered by the autocratic functioning of Food Safety & Standards Authority of India which regulates food business in the Country, eleven leading national organisations related to food business under the banner of National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) have demanded a CBI inquiry in to the affairs and irregularities of the Authority. " The Authority with its self style functioning much beyond the rules & regulations has caused substantial damage to food industry in India​ in past few years​ and has acted like an activist rather than a regulator tasked with smooth working of the industry​ and facilitating services for its growth but it has utterly failed"-said NJAC at a Press Conference held at New Delhi, which will soon file a charge sheet against the Authority with Union Health Minister.  Supreme Court order of 19th August, 2015 which held issuance of advisory of Product approval as unlawful, is a depiction of autocratic working of FSSA​I.​ Repeated extensions since year 2011 ​for​ obtaining registration ​by​ Food Business Operator​s​ under FSSAI Act is yet another example of nepotism in FSSAI. Non-consultation with stakeholders and non-inclusion of actual representatives of trade & industry in Central Advisory Committee of FSSAI indicates undemocratic​ & non-transparent​ working of FSSAI. The high handed method of working and lack of transparency has led to the current situation which has led NJAC to take the task of impressing upon the Government to ​release it from the clutches of rampant corruption & individualism.​ It is deeply regretted that right from the announcement of product approval process in year 2013 till it was struck down by apex court, FSSAI had blocked any scientific process and approval was made on whims and wills of officials. As pr the advisory every FBO was suppose to obtain product approval from FSSAI after paying Rs.25,000-00 for approval of each product. NJAC believe that such amount is in the tune of Rs.80 crore. No account has been rendered as to how this money was received by FSSAI without any permission in the Act or rules. It is also learnt that Comptroller & Auditor General of India had denied permission to use this money as it is not through a sanctioned way of collection of money. It is further learnt that FSSAI has made fixed deposit of this money without any proper sanction. Is their any beneficiary for making this fixed deposit ? It is a disturbing fact that because of lethargic attitude and illegal product approval advisory the food industry suffered loss of hundreds of crores of rupees, production of large number of items were forced to be stopped, exports draw a big jolt and enormous loss of revenue occurred to Government. Should the liability of the officials will be fixed by the Government ? It is most surprising that FSSA​I​ spent Rs.11 crore for creating an online process and a bulk amount of this money was paid to National Institute of Smart Governance. Whether any sanction was obtained prior to paying this money and why no accounts were submitted in FSSA​I​ meetings for three years.Huge amount of money was spent on international travel for various officials without any panel recommendation. Under the circumstances, the NJAC has demanded a CBI inquiry into affairs of FSSA​I​. It has sought time with Union Health Minister J.P.Nadda and Health Secretary to apprise them with the factual position and demanding action against erring officials. It has also demanded refund of Rs.80 crore collected on account of product approval. The NJAC has also demanded the Health Minister to constitute a Special Task Force comprising ​of ​senior officials of Ministry and representatives of stakeholders to make an in-depth study of rules and regulations of FSSAI and to suggest amendments in a time bound period​ which has been pending since long resulting in sufferings of food business operators who are facing harassment and corruption at the hands of officials across the Country."

One of the foolish acts of FSSAI has been banning the marketing of a particular brand of noodles without any foresight regarding its consequences and it is history that it had eggs all over its face by the Supreme Court order. Here is a babu oriented organization in this country with absolutely no clue regarding the dynamics of food processing sector riding roughshod on the industry just because it is drunk with power. Is it not ridiculous that a paper tiger like FSSAI with no infrastructure of its own to carry out its functions except "ordering" and its plush air conditioned office complex in Delhi inhabited by babus with exalted opinion about them selves, trying to to be "vigilante" for the consumer who any how has no faith in it? Is it not unfortunate that the new government in Delhi is as unconcerned as the previous one about the well being of the citizen who is groaning because of sky rocketing prices of foods while safety and quality are suspect with most of them, giving a free run to adulterators and fraudsters? When is the country going to wake up from its deep slumber and force the government to take action to ensure the safety and health of future generation? We cannot leave every thing to God, as most of us with a fatalistic philosophy have the habit to do, to sort out our problems and it is time that concerted action is taken now to protect our future. 


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