Citizens' Issues
How organic is your natural food?

For the domestic market in India, anybody and everybody happily places a sticker saying ‘organic’ on anything they want, after all this NPOP, NSOP and certifying agency system!

As with most such things, it starts with anecdotal personal experiences, and then it moves into research. This, therefore, was no different . . .
For years now, one has been keeping one’s eyes open for organic agri-products while travelling around the country. It has usually, been a pleasure as well as an education to look deeper into such discoveries, meeting people. They are really trying to keep pesticides and chemicals out of the growth chain, including the water being used. Typically, this has been an open experience, with people proud to show off their efforts. This is true from the Sunderbans to Mountain Kerala to Garhwal to Jodhpur, and more. However, of late, one has also observed the proliferation of signboards pointing to ‘certified’ organic farms, which on enquiring do not permit visitors inside.
Retail outlets in larger cities now devote increasingly more space, especially, in affluent areas for ‘organic’ products. Spices, tea, coffee, coconut, cereals, eggs, vegetables, fruits, juices and more—pretty much everything now has an ‘organic’ option available on the shelves, and it seems to cost a lot more too. The problem lies in the fact that somewhere in the fine print you can spot ‘like organic’ or ‘nature organic’ or even ‘organic approved’. Whether processed and packaged or sold fresh, there is still no clarity on the subject. So, it is pretty much about trusting the seller and parting with more money.
What has become even more visible of late is the term ‘organic’ being pasted on or over-printed onto the packaging of processed food imported into India. It is increasingly obvious that the original label, which may be in another language, has nothing to do with the product being organic. It has been added on by some entity usually as unverifiable as the sticker with the alleged importer’s provenance next to it.
There is more. Packaged breakfast ‘cereals’, amongst the most industrialised and mis-nomenclatured of all readymade convenience foods ever invented, are an example. Eggs in pretty cartons with little holograms pasted on are also promising in not just organic qualities, but also yellower yolks and browner skins.
So what’s really organic, to start with, in India? To start with, legally only those food products, which have had their production certified as per the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) as laid down by the Government of India, can use the term ‘organic’. Requirements vary by crop and product. They require intensive record-keeping and tracking, non-usage of a variety of chemicals for a number of years, and strict segregation, as well as, control at all stages in the production chain. This would include even the transportation and storage aspects—a truck used to carry non-organic produce, for example, would not be valid for organic food without serious cleaning up—organically. If a cold storage or vegetable or fruit shop does not clearly segregate organic from non-organic, then certification is at risk.
(This has, incidentally, been a mixed blessing for the smaller farmers. On one hand, they can join ‘groups’ which have moved into organic farming, thereby sharing costs and methods, and on the other hand, have to now deal with a ‘system’ that is as yet far from perfect).
Next, is an accreditation system—there are dozens of such certifying agencies in India. Obviously, where there is going to be competition of this sort, there is going to be room to manoeuvre.  So every, now and then, there are reports of such agencies indulging in fraudulent practices. Luckily, they also get caught, it seems. Genetically-modified cotton being passed of as organic cotton is one such popular scam. But, by and large, as of now, the system does appear to work. These certifying agencies are supposed to not just grant certification to farmers and others in the business of organic products but also carry out regular verifications. They are supposed to do this under the NSOP (National Standards for Organic Production).
Finally, there are the entities in the business of organic products. They ensure that the land used is fit for organic farming. They are also responsible for sourcing seeds and natural fertilisers. All of them need to be certified and that’s where the issue comes—as of now, unlike in other countries, there is no single ‘mark’ or ‘logo’ which provides a single-point re-verification on this for the eventual customer. Nor is there a requirement that the product or packaging (or even advertising) for the domestic market has to carry details of the certification under the NPOP or NSOP—as yet.
So, what happens is that for the domestic market in India, anybody and everybody happily places a sticker saying ‘organic’ on anything they want, after all this NPOP, NSOP and certifying agency system. Obviously, for the export market, documentation is strong enough to cover this lacuna; otherwise the NPOP/NSOP would lose the rest of the world as a customer.
But when it comes to the Indian customer, pretty much anybody from anywhere in the world, or domestic, can happily put the word ‘organic’ on it. That’s the real and simple truth as on date. And there does appear to be a bit of a racket in this—after all, it is the same ministry of agriculture that is involved, which is also pushing non-organic farming methods and products. So the conflict is clear and there for anybody to see.
What is the solution? Well, other than sitting with the retailer and getting her to explain the complete chain, not much else. Yes, there are shops and outlets which have built up a reputation over the years, but they are few and far between. They are in danger of being hidden by the louder and brighter smart alecks in the game. But at this point in time, if that package or display says ‘Organic’, then some amount of re-verification is certainly in order. Some how!




5 years ago

vegetables is shoddy and unforgivable. Grains would rather be allowed to rot, by the government, than be distributed, to people, whether free, or at a price.
We MUST ban all modern fertilizers, stop using pesticides which aren't of made from natural sources, and Complete Ban all GM foods. There is no other alternative.


5 years ago

The National Standards for Organic products (NSOP) under the National Programme for organic Production (NPOP), seems to be highly questionable. Firstly, the Indian Organic Certification Agency of India should start by certifying food as GM, Pesticide Sprayed, Fertilizer Enhanced (Specifying the kind of fertilizers used), and let us Indians know, what is the junk, that is going into our mouths. Then the government should start answering questions, as to why all good Organic Foods are exported to the EU, and other countries, where we get to eat the garbage, that we do, produced in India, and imported from the world, at MANY TIMES, the price, that they retail at, Around the World.



In Reply to gaurav 5 years ago

Dear Gaurav ji, thank you for writing in, and valid points.

Why not start by just sending an RTI application asking the very questions you want answers for, please?

My take is that the food industry, which has increasingly got stronger roots in India and links with the healthcare industry, will simply not permit truth in labeling and selling junk food in India along the same lines as they do in their other (developed??)country markets.

We need to expose' this, but more, need to also counter it.

Humbly submitted/vm

Prakash Bhate

5 years ago

There is no way you can feed 7 billion people by organic farming. You either pay through your nose for a genuine organic product and derive mental satisfaction for consuming something that is not really any different from what is available through commercial farming. Or get cheated by people who put false labels. Or consume commercially farmed products. The last choice is exercised by at least 6 billion people and they are all alive and getting on with their jobs.



In Reply to Prakash Bhate 5 years ago

Dear Prakash Bhate ji, thank you for writing in, and appreciate your candour.

Certainly, commercially farmed products are about the only viable solution going, but as you correctly stated - this business of false labels needs to be stopped. And more importantly, what is going into commercially farmed products needs to be looked into - start with the high-protein diet components that an "improvement" iin economic status motivates people towards - things like chicken, milk products, soya products and even some "new" types of fish. Can we have some rational solutions on the labels which cover much of the new-generation fish-meal, poultry-feed, ferts, chemicals and other raw materials used for commercial agriculture please?

Humbly submitted/vm

Goa Governor eats humble pie; High Court says he also comes under RTI Act

Governor K Sankaranarayanan, who is complying with the RTI Act in Maharashtra refused to comply with the same in Goa (as he hold both posts) like his predecessor Dr Sidhu. The High Court, in a judgment on 14th November, however declared that the Governor does come under the ambit of the RTI Act in Goa as well

In a major embarrassment to the Goa Raj Bhavan, the Bombay High Court at Goa on Monday ruled that the Governor of Goa is a public authority and come within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Pronouncing the much-awaited judgment on 14th November, the High Court held that the Governor enjoyed no immunity from the RTI Act and the public information officer (PIO) at the Goa Raj Bhavan is duty bound to furnish information sought under the Act.
Earlier in August, a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court at Goa comprising Justice DG Karnik and Justice FM Reis had reserved the judgment after hearing final arguments in the petition filed by Goa Raj Bhavan.  
The Governor of Goa had refused to furnish information sought by Adv Aires Rodrigues under the RTI Act claiming that he is not a "public authority".
Adv Rodrigues had sought details of action taken by the Governor on the complaints filed by him against the Goa's Advocate General Subodh Kantak, under the RTI Act. Adv Rodrigues had also sought copies of noting sheets and correspondence pertaining to the processing of his complaints against the Advocate General.
The Goa Raj Bhavan in its petition before the High Court had contended that the Governor not being a "public authority" does not come within the purview of the RTI Act. The Raj Bhavan had also contended that the Goa State Information Commission had not been properly constituted and that the State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) could not have heard matters in the absence of another Information Commissioner.
Motilal Keny, SCIC of Goa, on 31st March, had ruled that the Goa Governor was a "public authority" and did come within the ambit of the RTI Act.
The High Court in its order however held that the Goa State Information Commission has to be a multi-member body and could not function with just the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).
Former Chief Justice of India JS Verma, who was also former Governor had publicly opined that the Goa Governor was a public authority and did come within the ambit of the RTI Act. A similar view was also strongly expressed by noted RTI Activist Aruna Roy while she was in Goa last month.
Mr Sankaranarayanan took over as Governor of Goa in September 2011. Ironically, he has been complying with the RTI Act as Governor of Maharashtra (as he holds this post too) but in Goa like his predecessor Dr SS Sidhu, he refused to comply by the Act.

This was evident when Adv Rodrigues sought details of total expenditure incurred in 2011 by the Goa Governor's official and their unofficial visits out of the state. He was also denied information when he asked details of President of India, Pratibha Patil's visit to Goa in January this year, which the Goa Governor's declared as a personal visit. However, when Adv Rodrigues asked for the same information under RTI from the Governor of Maharashtra's office, he got detailed answers which proved that the President indeed had been on an official visit and Rs15 lakh were spent from the taxpayers' money.

Chronology of the case

29 November 2010: Adv Rodrigues had sought information from Goa Raj Bhavan under RTI, details of action taken on the complaints made by him to the Governor of Goa against Advocate General of Goa  Subodh Kantak. He had also sought copies of file notings and correspondence pertaining to the processing of his complaints against the Advocate General.

30 November 2010: Goa Raj Bhavan refused to furnish the information sought.

21 December 2010: Adv Rodrigues filed a complaint against the Raj Bhavan with the State Information Commission
22 December 2010: State Information Commission sent a notice directing the then Governor Dr SS Sidhu to personally appear before the State Chief Information Commissioner on 4 January 2011.
23 December 2010: Adv Rodrigues filed a caveat before the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court against Governor Dr Sidhu anticipating that he might move the High Court against the notice issued to him by the Goa State Information Commission (GSIC) directing him to personally appear before the GSIC in connection with a complaint filed against him for not complying with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

31 March 2011: Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Motilal Keny held that Governor is a Public Authority and should furnish information sought by Adv Rodrigues
22 April 2011: Governor of Goa Dr Sidhu took his battle against the Right to Information Act to the Bombay High Court.
August 2011: The Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justice DG Karnik and Justice FM Reis heard the Raj Bhavan's petition for over four days and reserved the Judgment.
14 November 2011: Bombay High Court rules that Goa Governor's office comes under the ambit of the RTI Act.



Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

There is hope in our judiciary!
Do the Governors of Goa, even the one holding concurrent charge, acquire the exhalted holier than thou on touching the sands of Goa be it Mr. Sidhu or Shankarnarayan. Can they not be hauled up for contempt?

Bankers ask Kingfisher to infuse Rs800 crore fresh equity

Bankers have made it clear that Kingfisher’s promoters will have to infuse Rs800 crore worth of fresh equity if they are to consider a second restructuring of existing debt even as opposition mounted to any bailout of the private carrier

Mumbai: A crucial board meeting of Kingfisher airlines last night finalised the financial results of the cash-strapped carrier which has been asked by its lenders to infuse Rs800 crore worth of fresh equity, reports PTI.

The airlines would on Tuesday file its financial results for the second quarter of 2011-12 approved by the board which met for over 10 hours here.

Kingfisher chief Vijay Mallya will hold a press conference here at 12 noon.

Yesterday’s meeting is understood to have discussed various options of restructuring existing debt.

There was also speculation that a rejig of the management may take place but there was no official word on this from the airline.

Bankers have made it clear that Kingfisher’s promoters will have to infuse Rs800 crore worth of fresh equity if they are to consider a second restructuring of existing debt even as opposition mounted to any bailout of the private carrier.

The bankers have asked the troubled airline to come out with a ‘credible’ plan.

The lenders—a 13-bank consortium led by State Bank of India (SBI), who were yet to decide on ways to soften the troubled airline’s Rs7,057.08 crore debt burden, are due to meet Kingfisher management here today.

“Bankers want more information on their fleet, equity, continuation of fuel supply. Banks can come in as lenders not promoter. We will respond how it unfolds,” said Pratip Chaudhuri, chairman of SBI which leads the 13-bank consortium that has financed Kingfisher.

On whether the bank will consider making fresh advances to Kingfisher, SBI managing director Hemant Contractor said, “We have to be satisfied about the viability of the company.

There is no point restructuring if the company’s operations are not going to be viable.

“We have asked them to come up with some fresh funds if the banks are to at all consider their request for restructuring. We want to see more funds coming from the company itself...” Mr Contractor said. SBI has the largest exposure to Kingfisher—Rs1,400 crore--among the lenders.

Amid the debate over bailout for Kingfisher, SpiceJet chief Neil Mills said the government should not use taxpayers’ money to revive a private sector company.

On his part, Mr Mallya said he is not seeking taxpayers’ money.

“No bailout involving taxpayers’ money. V want working capital management assistance.” he said in his latest tweet.

The debt-ridden airline continued with flight cancellations for the eighth straight day. The airline did not operate at least 40 flights on Monday.

With prime minister Manmohan Singh saying that the government would consider ways and means to help his airline come out of the crisis, Mr Mallya said in another tweet: “The Hon’ble PM is an economist and understands the importance of connectivity that goes together with economic growth. Why such debate (on bailout) then?” 

He also criticised the media for using the term ‘bailout’ and making the matter ‘so sensational’.

Amid the talk of Kingfisher seeking government assistance, Bajaj group patriarach Rahul Bajaj said on Sunday private sector should not be bailed out and ‘those who die must die”. Opposition parties including BJP and CPI-M have opposed any bailout for the private airline.


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