FSSAI's dictate on mandatory licence for road side food vendors, suppliers and transporters, like Mumbai's famous Dabbawala, would force them to down shutters forever as majority of them will not pass the stringent norms
Hot-steaming tea at your favourite chai stall, delicious-spicy street Chinese, garma garam vada pav, refreshing sugar cane juice, khatti-mithi pani puri, thandi lassi and chaas, fried kanda-bhujiya, cheesy Indian franky, hand-made chocolates by your neighbourhood auntie, or the all time favourite bread pakoda. WAIT. These mouth-watering items, a part of long-struggling India's Unincorporated may not exist anymore. It may even be time to bid farewell to the khau gallis and dabbawalas present in every corner of India with the new law set to slaughter them.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a central regulator, has extended the deadline for food business operators (FBO) to obtain a license and registration to 4 August 2014. But it is still unclear as to how many of these food stall owners would survive the proposed license-raj. According to a report by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), “…the enforcement of this Act in the present form, it will lead to the closure of over 17 lakh Indian food industries and will force unemployment on over 20 million people.”
The idea of licensing and registration for FBOs mooted by FSSAI under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is aimed at preventing food adulteration. However, implementation of this regulation would require extensive administration and bureaucracy which is time-consuming and costly. This too is only likely to breed more corrupt practices due to the massive discretionary powers of the officials than prevent food adulteration.
FSSAI license/ registration has been made mandatory for every hawker, kiosk or stall—whether your neighbouring mithaiwala or a multinational McDonalds'. Post 4th August, all of them are required to obtain a FBO license.
FBOs are defined as “Any undertaking private or public, for profit or not” carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, transportation, distribution of food, imports and including food services, sale of food or food ingredients”.
The license under the FSSAI Rules and Regulations 2011 was to be obtained with effect from 5 August 2011, but the deadline was postponed to August 2012 and now again to 4 August 2014.
Under this regulation, already licensed FBOs operating under now repealed Acts and Rules such as the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA) need to convert their license or registration to the new rules under Section 31 of the act. The license fee is Rs2,000 and it will be issued only after a Food Safety Officer visits the manufacturing, processing and transporting units and certifies that it meets FSSAI standards. The penalty for non-compliance is 100 times more than that under the PFA act and could go up to Rs5 lakh or imprisonment of up to six months under Section 63 of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006.
Given the stringent provisions and the fact that the government provides no amenities to road side food sellers (many operate only in the evening or night after shops have closed), they are unlikely to meet FSSAI standards and will probably, have to shut down and become victims of endless harassment and extortion by government officials.
Aamchi Mumbai cha vada-pav, road-side chai, street-corner bakery, pani puri, traveller's favourite roti-rolls etc are all likely to get out of the market if this law comes into force unless the the new government elected at the Centre furiously takes a reverse. One wonders if the most efficient enterprise in India, the dabbawala, which has been awarded the six sigma for service would also need a license, since he would fall under the definition of FBO for transporting food. Will the dabbawala’s rough-and-ready travel in the luggage van of suburban trains meet FSSAI’s hygienic standards? Or will the rule see selective application and exemptions?
With rising inflation and high costs and taxes at regular eateries, most of India’s working as well as middle class, at least in Mumbai, depends on road-side food that is served up by tiny entrepreneurs, who put up temporary stalls at breakfast, lunch and dinner time. This is especially true of large cities like Mumbai. Licensing and registration will kill these businesses, merely with the additional cost and compliance burden. What is worse, the government will contribute nothing to their lives or business other than harassment. Will a FSSAI license make them eligible for bank loans at the rates available to organised industry? Of course not. By forcing the industry to go underground, the government will not only harass hawkers but also their vast population of customers. It is probably this realisation that ensures that the deadline gets pushed back so often.