Common man has been waiting to hear the news and here comes the golden words from none other than the Chairman of the brand new GOI set up called the Food Safety And Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that " the center is all set to bring out a set of guidelines for manufacturers who have to comply with these norms, the objective being to make only safe and healthy food available in the market". Since the above pronouncement has come from the 'Authority', the consumers has no choice but to believe him and hope that he has the real authority to translate his words into reality. Common man always wondered why the erstwhile draconian Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 1956, with rigorous punishment regime for violators, was not able to make the industry manufacture only safe foods during the last 52 years!
The Chairman further thundered that if the manufacturers fail to comply, FSSAI 'can' force a recall of specific food items from the market. Remember the minimum 6 months imprisonment provision for food adulterators under the good old PFA and can any one recall how many convictions have happened since 1956? All the Authority is promising is that it will raise the ALARM if the product does not conform to the guidelines. What next? Are consumers expected to run helter skelter after hearing the ALARM from the Authority? Since the food industry development is a state subject, central government can do precious little to protect the consumers except raising ALARM!
Listen to the Authority about imported foods. "FSSAI would bring out another set of guidelines for imported food items as there is hardly any check on the quality of imported food". Wonderful sentiments. Why this enlightenment coming so late is not clear. India has been exporting food products to all over the world and a wealth of experience exists to day as to how importing countries treat Indian foods at their ports. Still only now, the realization has dawned on the government that " India does not have a foolproof system to review the inflow of imported foods" !
Does this augur well for the industry? Already, clearance of import consignments at our ports takes inordinate time because of the archaic procedures in place currently and setting up another bureaucratic body "to gauge risk factor associated with imported items" is going to pose further problems for the industry in clearing imported consignments for use in their processing operations. It is not disputed that there is a need for preventing spurious and unsafe foods landing in our country. Probably the importers must be held accountable for such imports with severe punishment regime in place.
The declaration that the Authority "has decided to rate 1000 eateries in the capital before the Common Wealth Games, 2010 so that the visitors can opt for safe and hygienic food while visiting India" is a lofty one but the question that begs an answer, is what expertise and capability FSSAI has in undertaking this task. Why only the visitors are eligible to opt for safe foods? What about the "natives"? Why only for Delhi? What after the Games? Probably it will be business as usual, continuing with more seminars, more press conferences, more meetings and conferences and more notifications with no teeth. One is reminded of an old story where a rooster tried to scare a Lion that intruded into a village by its crowing and the Lion retreated the first time. It later realized how timid is the rooster and after allowing the rooster to chase it for some time, the Lion turned around to finish of the rooster! Adulterators and social criminals know very well how ineffective is the government and the judiciary in the country and no matter what law we enact they have their own way to circumvent them. As a nation we are fond of creating Authorities at the slightest pretext to be adorned by bureaucrats and politicians who will enjoy all perks associated with the position with practically no means to use the 'authority' for the purpose it is created. And the game goes on, on and on!