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Online food licensing and regn faces manpower & infrastructure hurdles
Friday, 26 July, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Akshay Kalbag and Abhitash Singh, Mumbai
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Even technology has failed to speed up the snail-paced licensing and registration of FBOs procedure being undertaken across the country under the Food Safety & Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011.

That is because, fraught with glitches like lack of tech-savvy users and officials and inadequate infrastructure – software, hardware and manpower - the online version of the procedure, which meant the entire process will be completed in a few minutes at the click of a few buttons, has failed to gather steam in most parts of the country where it has been launched in recent times.

While the above-mentioned glitches are a matter of grave concern for now, they are also likely to impact the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) goal of completing the licensing and registration procedure in the country before the deadline – February 4, 2014 – be it manual or online. Interestingly, the deadline has been extended by the Authority twice earlier.

To know the current scenario, let us take a look at Goa. The tiny state commenced the process of licensing and registration online on January 31, 2012. Jyoti J Sardessai, deputy director, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the South Goa district, said, “Most food business operators across the state prefer offline application.”

This was confirmed by a source in the district FDA, who added that online licensing and registration constitutes 30 per cent, while offline licensing and registration accounts for the remainder.

He said, “Adequate infrastructure has not been created for citizen-centric centres (for instance, cyber-cafes, which charge exorbitant rates). Another hurdle the online system faces in Goa is that most FBOs are not too tech-savvy.”

“We have recently appointed four data entry operators, who upload the information about applications received – both online and offline – from FBOs in the state's two districts (North Goa and South Goa) onto a database,” the official informed.

“Establishments with larger premises and more staff opt for online licensing and registration,” he added.

Software glitches

The online licensing and registration process first started about two years ago. But the software for the same, though developed with a great deal of fanfare and trials, was not upto the mark. While efforts were made to rectify the weak areas, users still found some glitches.

Maharashtra

Maharashtra was the first to start the online licensing and registration. Till date, 3 lakh FBOs across the western state have either registered or obtained licences. Yet, 90 per cent of the registration and licensing has taken place offline, and the remainder online.

Haryana & Chandigarh

Haryana also started the online registration for FBOs on March 22 2013. Chandigarh, the capital of the state (as well as that of Punjab), became the first Union Territory recently to introduce the online food licensing and registration system (FLRS) to facilitate food business operators (FBOs) to file and track their applications.

Tamil Nadu & Kerala

The total number of licenses issued by and FBOs registered in Tamil Nadu so far is 1,85,000, all of which are offline. The online process recently commenced in Madurai district. The number of FBOs who have either obtained a license or registered – all offline – across Kerala is 55,000.  

Gujarat – An exception

However, Gujarat is a state whose Food and Drug Control Administration (FDCA) has fared better than its counterparts in the other states.

H G Koshia, the state's food commissioner, said, “About 1,20,000 FBOs have either obtained a license or registered offline so far. And I am proud to say that Gujarat has become the first state in the country to start the online registration and licensing process in all 26 districts at one go.”

He added, “We imparted training to all the FBOs and also organised five workshops covering all the districts along with the National Institute for Smart Government (NISG) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).”

Koshia added, “I am sure Gujarat will complete its licensing and registration well before the deadline stipulated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, namely February 4, 2014.”

Puducherry's poor performance

“There are seven months to go before the February 4, 2014 deadline lapses, but the process of licensing and registration is yet to commence in Puducherry,” said Ragesh Chandra, the Union Territory's health and education secretary.  

Conclusion

Nevertheless, FSSAI is organising workshops and educating FBOS across the country hoping that all the states concerned come up with solutions for their problems soon.
 
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