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FSSR failed to describe gradation; Act enacted in haste, S N Mohanty told
Monday, 15 October, 2012, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Akshay Kalbag, Mumbai
Tejinder Singh Renu, honorary secretary, Vidarbha Taxpayers Association (VTA), Nagpur, met S N Mohanty, chief executive officer, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in New Delhi recently to discuss the ambiguities and discrepancies in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006, and the Food Safety and Standards Regulations (FSSR), 2011.

While Renu was accompanied by Bhawanishankar Dave, joint secretary, Nagpur Hotel Owners Association, the country's apex food regulator was represented by S S Ghonkrokta, director (enforcement); Madhawan, deputy director (enforcement-I); and D S Yadav, deputy director (enforcement-II).

Renu explained, "The Act is literally threatening to close down practically all food business operators (FBOs) in the country, as the Regulations have a number of provisions that are practically impossible to comply with, and has also given unprecedented powers to the food inspectors leading to Inspector Raj."

He expressed his gratitude to Mohanty for extending the time limit as prescribed in Regulation 2.1.2 of the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations. 2011, which deals with licences for food businesses by six months, but said it would be insufficient as the Act applies to the whole country and covers all businesses related to food.

Renu raised several key issues, the first of them being FSSAI's failure to strike a logical balance and gradation. "They have surprisingly prepared the same provisions for all levels (from farm to fork), which means a petty dhaba and a seven-star hotel shall be following the same norms, as no parameters or gradations have been described under the new Act," he said.

Another issue raised by him was the fact that the regulator did not study the Indian market, agricultural procedures and other parameters before bringing the Act into effect. He said, "We (VTA) feel that the Act has been enacted in haste, and FSSAI has not given stakeholders a lawful opportunity."

After all, FSSAI was incorporated to lay down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. He also alleged that the regulator didn't follow provisions prepared by themselves, such as Sections 18(2)(a)(i) and 18(2)(d) of the Act.

"Another vital issue was existing FBOs would come under the purview of the Act as they have been asked by local authorities to comply with all the provisions and local authorities have also been demanding a mandatory affidavit from all applicants stating that they will comply with all the provisions of Schedule IV within a year of taking registration under the Act," Renu said.

"The penalty provisions under the FSS Act, 2006 - namely Sections 42 to 63 - lack clarity and ambiguity therein, which would lead to a number of litigations. Also, it vests in food inspectors unprecedented powers, which is bound to give a boost to corruption," the VTA secretary pointed out.

Dave, joint secretary, Nagpur Hotel Owners Association, pointed out various discrepancies in the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, and said, "Even the best foodgrains available in the market are failing to match the high standards and characteristics defined in the Regulations."

When Mohanty was quizzed about the exclusion of farmers and milk societies from the purview of the Act, he said, "FSSAI was formed after the Act came into existence, and hence it can only be replied by Parliament." However, he categorically stated, "Farmers are also requested to obtain registration under the Act before they can sell their produce in the market."

VTA, in its memorandum, said they would categorically state that they were not against any of the laws or provisions that were in the interests of people, who might be affected upon consuming unsafe or adulterated food, but the system adopted to cover one and all, be it a small FBO or a big one, overnight might surely attract corruption and Inspector Raj was incorrect.

"This should have been imposed slowly and gradation-wise, so that gradually all are covered. After a patient hearing, Mohanty assured us that FSSAI would reply to all the issues raised in our memorandum soon and issue appropriate clarifications in the form of memos or instructions for clarification," said Renu.
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