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Another extension inevitable; just 6.8% complete licensing, registration

31,January, 2016

With the latest deadline – Feb 4, 2016 – a couple of days away and 6.8% (a minuscule rise from 6.2% at last deadline) out of India’s 5+ crore FBOs obtaining licence and securing registration under Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011, the revamped online system seems to be working for FSSAI though at a sluggish pace.

The new system has not only made the procedure simple, but it also enables FBOs to check and track their applications on a regular basis and overcome delays, if any. The system is in place in 32 states and Union territories already.

While the new system definitely seems to be better than the earlier glitch-ridden version, it is yet to speed up the procedure in a significant way because of issues such as lack of manpower and additional burden of converting licences and registrations completed earlier manually to online. A look at the figures makes it amply evident – till January 20, 2016, the total number of licensing and registration in the country rose to 33,82,599 from 31,11,646 on June 29, 2015. Similarly state licences, which stood at 5, 87,929 in June 2015 jumped to 6,66,763; Central licences climbed up from 20,850 to 24,293; and number of registrations recorded an upward spiral from 25,02,867 to 26,91,543. Among these only the percentage of state licences has shown a slightly noteworthy rise at 2.1%, while all others are in decimals.

Interestingly, even when the online system was not functioning properly, FSSAI was struggling for completion of the procedure, marked by delays and extensions of deadline – six in total. This has been the case ever since the implementation of India’s comprehensive food safety regime – FSSR, 2011, which made licensing and registration compulsory for every entity that dealt with food, in August 2011.

Repeated extensions

That being the scenario, while states that are drastically lagging behind in licensing and registration numbers, are expecting another extension to the deadline, those that are completing at a steady pace are strongly against any more extensions. In fact, the latter are of the opinion that repeated extensions are making FBOs take the procedure lightly.

For instance, a senior official from the UP Food and Drug Administration laments, “Each time without any reason and consultation with the state authorities, the FSSAI issues direction to extend the deadline. This creates confusion amongst the FSO who is working on ground and the FBOs therefore feel no pressure of regulations as they believe each time the deadline will be extended.”

The official points out that UP has completed the work related to conversions with 34,973 licences being converted online while 25,250 licences given offline. Further, around 3 lakh registrations have been done till date.

Officials in Gujarat are also against another extension. They strongly feel that already enough time has been given to the FBOs. According to C S Gohil, food safety officer, FDCA, Gujarat, till December, licences issued were 56,477 and registrations done – 1,52,342.

However, those from food safety department, Bihar, have a differing viewpoint. According to them, a lot of work is still pending with regard to licensing and registration.

The state has completed 27,000 registrations and issued close to 11,000 licences. The officials in Bihar estimate that there are around 1.5 lakh FBOs in the state.

In Haryana, the officials say that the work is stuck as so far only 4,000 licences and 8,000 registrations have been done.

According to food safety department of Government of Delhi, from Jan 1 to 20, 2016, 562 licences have been issued while last year total of 5,906 licences were issued. In 2014, 5,406 licences were issued through the online process while 555 licences were issued manually. According to the officials, the numbers include both conversions

and new. On registration front, last year, 20,245 registrations were issued by Delhi, while this year, till Jan 21, 562 registrations were completed.

Manpower crunch, additional burden

In the western region, officials with the Maharashtra food safety department informed that Mumbai was suffering due to severe scarcity of manpower, and hence, online submission and issuance of licences was unable to takeoff completely. According to officials, till November, both online and offline, a total of 13,959 licences and 46,061 registrations were issued.

Further, across the Maharashtra state, total licences/ registrations issued till Oct 31, 2015, were 156,707 wherein licences issued: 77,737 and registrations done 78,970. According to the officials, new licences/ registrations till Oct 31, 2015, were 679,655 wherein licences issued were 148,639 and registrations done 531,016.

Uday Vanjari, joint commissioner (food), Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), Maharashtra, said, "The state of Maharashtra has more pressure of licences and registrations than other states. The rise in pressure is the result of approaching deadline of Feb 4. There are less employees in the FDA. We have to convert all the earlier

files to suit the online system. Each file takes around 15-20 minutes to be converted to the online database. We will add up more data entry operators to our team to finish up the work."

He adds, "Due to the work pressure on the states, even the work of updating the physical files of earlier registrations is in progress, and the workload and less availability of employees is making the job more difficult."

Down south in Kerala as on Jan 18, 2016, 19,351 online licences were issued while 64,132 online registrations have been done. The state officials informed that the state has so far collected a sum of Rs 82,415,100, through fees.

In Karnataka, a total of 61,457 registrations have been completed so far, while 26,391 licences were issued. C R Srinivasa Gowda, joint director, State Public Health Institute, Bangalore, informed, "The last minute rush is visible. FBOs and small food operators have started registering and applying for the licences to be safe from the FSSAI’s radar as the deadline is approaching.

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