Headless FSSAI Gives Food Business Operators Six-Month Licensing Breather
Enormity of the number of pending licence applications drives decision as government mulls a comprehensive review of the flawed Act
THE Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), under attack from many quarters for messing up the implementation of the already flawed Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has given an additional six months to Food Business Operators (FBOs), an umbrella term covering 24 disparate categories, from hotels and restaurants to dairy units and slaughter houses, to apply for and obtain the mandatory licence without which they cannot operate.
FBOs now have time till August 4, 2015, to complete their licensing formalities even as the government mulls over an overhaul of the Act. Section 31(1) of the 2006 Act lays down that no person can commence or carry on any food business except under a valid licence. The licence, issued under the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011, is a requirement even for operators who were in the food business before the notification of the 2006 Act.
This is the third extension of the deadline in the past one year – the previous extensions were announced on February 4 and August 4, 2014, whereas the original FBO licensing and registration deadline was August 4, 2012. The latest extension is mainly the result of the efforts of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), which had pointed out to the under-staffed and over-stretched authority that the FBOs were not getting their licences within a stipulated time frame, leading to a panic in the industry.
Vendors were concerned that even if they applied before the deadline, without an FBO license, they may be forced to shut shop. Others noted that the process was too confusing and there were no clear instructions for filing applications. The FSSAI had plans to streamline the process, but it moved to an online application process only in January 2014, approximately 18 months after the original FBO licensing and registration deadline of August 4, 2012.
The Himalayan enormity of the task is evident from figures uploaded by the FSSAI in 2014. As of February 4, 2014, the authority had issued 481,964 FBO licenses and recorded 1,910,160 FBO registrations. The FSSAI, which has been functioning without a chairman since January 23, 2015 (the day the previous incumbent, K. Chandramouli, retired), seems to have reconciled to the reality that it will take a long time for it to clear the lakhs of licence applications that have piled up in its Inbox.
The Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary at present also holds the FSSAI chairmanship as an additional charge. Ironically, even as the government is in the thick of consultations over the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006, the ministry has seen a secretary-level reshuffle.
Lov Verma, who as the ministry’s secretary was spearheading the review of the Act, has just been replaced by Bhanu Pratap Sharma, who was Special Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). Verma has been moved to the Ministry of Social Justice.
An order issued by the DoPT on January 31, 2015, noted that the Cabinet Committee on Appointments had approved the elevation of Sharma, an IAS officer of the Bihar cadre, 1981 batch, as Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.