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Licence to flout food rules

From Wednesday, most eateries in Patna will function illegally.

After the extended nationwide deadline to get licence under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, ended on Tuesday, the city is left with joints that are improper to serve food to connoisseurs.

According to sources, the eatery count across the state runs into lakhs but until Tuesday, only 8,000 licences were sought and around 17,000 registrations have been approved.

“The figures are not even five per cent of the total food business across Bihar,” said Ashish Kumar, the designated officer in the state food safety authority, Bihar.

The officer, however, did not have the exact number of entities — vendors, hawkers and transporters — engaged in the food business directly or indirectly.

Unregistered or unlicensed eateries mean no assurance of cleanliness, hygiene and proper quality of ingredients in the food we eat. Licence is for bigger firms, while registration is for smaller firms.

The Food Safety and Standards Regulations — the tool for implementation of the Act — was notified on August 5, 2011. An initial deadline of a year was given to the establishments to register.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) — the Centre’s nodal agency for quality control and monitoring — extended the deadline from August 4, 2012, to February 4, 2013, and again to February 4 this year.

Senior officers in the health department, under which the state food safety authority falls, blamed the numerous extensions for the low rate of registration/licensing in the state.

“The government kept on extending the deadline as a result people did not take it seriously. Lack of awareness about the Act is also a reason behind low turnout of vendors for licence,” said an officer of the health department.

The fee for acquiring the licence depends on the turnover. For vendors, retail outlet owners, cart owners and transporters among others, whose annual turnover is less than Rs 12 lakh, the registration fee is meagre Rs 100.

For those establishments, whose annual income is between Rs 12 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, the licence fee is Rs 2,000. Traders above this bracket have to pay Rs 3,000. Manufacturers with turnover of Rs 25 lakh and above have to shell out Rs 5,000, while giant companies, which manufacture and also maintain food depot/stocks under the same brand name, are required to pay Rs 7,500.

Sources said the bigger food units are cautious about getting the licence but the major shortfall in this regard is the small vendors.

“I sell chowmein and egg roll on a small cart and I don’t know anything about any licence or registration. No one has ever asked me to apply for registration,” said Rajesh Kumar, a fast food vendor at Kadamkuan.

Not only private but government food units also come under the ambit of this Act.

Mid-day meal centres in government schools under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Anganwadi centres under Integrated Child Development Services are also required to obtain licences. However, the status is disappointing in these centres as well.

Manpower shortage has always been an issue.

“The State Food Safety Authority suffers from acute staff crunch. There are no food inspectors with us. A proposal has been made for creation of posts for food safety officers and more designated officers in the authority,” said the health department official.

So now what? Would all unlicensed and unregistered food units would be pronounced illegal and punitive actions would be initiated against them. No. Things are most likely to remain status quo.

“There numbers are very high. We cannot take punitive action against lakhs of food vendors all of a sudden. However, they would definitely not be legal anymore and we would take action according to instructions from the department,” said Ashish.