The Food Safety and Standards Act has not only raised apprehensions among those in the food business, but also the Punjab government which too seems concerned about more powers that would be vested in the implementing authorities.
Punjab health minister Madan Mohan Mittal on Saturday said though the Act would benefit the masses by ensuring the safety of food, he said it might give rise to a system of 'Inspector Raj'. However, he assured that the government would take the necessary steps to avoid such a problem.
The health minister was in Ludhiana to attend a seminar on the Food Safety and Standards Act. The seminar was aimed at spreading awareness about the Act among the masses.
Under the Act, all food-serving units will be required to get permission from the health department. Units with sales above Rs 12 lakh per year will need to get licences, while others will only have to get registration.
"The Food Safety and Standards Act will be very helpful in maintaining a system that will ensure safety of food. For that, the people involved in the food industry will have to get registered or acquire a license, according to the provisions of the Act."
However, he added, "Since there are lot of people involved in the industry, including those with tiny businesses, we feel there is scope of 'Inspector Raj'. But we will design a proper system to keep a regular check on all the officials, to eliminate that possibility."
The Act has already created trepidation among the people associated with the food industry. Harjit Singh, president, Bakery Association Ludhiana, said, "This law is suitable for big business units. Small units like ours can never fulfil the norms of the Act. The Act does not even allow us to use water that is not passed as hygienic. Now, if the municipal corporation's water also does not pass the hygiene test, how will we use this water? The Act will only give more powers to inspectors and will certainly create 'Inspector Raj'."
In fact, worried about the provisions of the Act, the sweet makers have submitted a memorandum to the health minister.
Narinder Pal Singh, president, Punjab Halwai Association, said, "We have submitted a long list of demands regarding the Food Safety and Standards Act. There are provisions in the Act, which need to be revised. For instance, the Act directs us to get a water-testing certificate. Now, a certificate for both bacterial and chemical testing from private labs cost us around Rs 4,500 with six months' validity. Therefore, we should be exempted from the mandatory water analysis."
Department does not have manpower to give licences
According to the Food Safety and Standards Act, all food-serving units from a top hotel to a small tea stall will have to get registration or licence from the heath department. However, at present the health department does not even have the infrastructure to get the registration and licensing done.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official from the health department said, "In Ludhiana district alone, there will be more than 5,000 licences and around 1 lakh registrations required. But the health department is short of staff and people are coming to get licences are already getting harassed."
When Punjab health minister Madan Mohan Mittal was asked on Saturday about the workforce required to get the licensing and registration done, he said, "It will take time. We will have a separate wing for those purposes and we will solve the problem of staff shortage."
Till now, the health department has issued 834 licences and completed 1,375 registrations under the Food Safety and Standards Act across the state.