Today: October 18, 2018, 4:57 pm

Munna Bhai FaSSAI – Elephant in the hands of Blind Men

Indian Street Food has its own perils of dust, grime, seat and flies other than the adulteration
Indian Street Food has its own perils of dust, grime, seat and flies other than the adulteration
Food Safety concerns of Indian Street Food are being totally ignored by FSSAI who find their joy in pursuing and arbitrarily persecuting imported food that comes from the developed world 2014-08-08 14:27:43
The Old Delhi neighborhood is specked with thousands of small stalls. In a corner, Rahul churns out sizzling jalebis, on a black sooty pan, in which he keeps on adding more vanaspati with sparky droplets of sweat sizzling in the pan. Kaka ji beckons you with his grimy Chicken Biryani under the pipal tree, obviously garnishing the fare with bird droppings. Fighting for space is Ajay Rehriwala, with his Chawal Rajma that carries instances of Delhi’s pollution, dust and weather. Seekh Kababs marinated with whatnots and black dust, hang in Delhi’s wild west. In India, traditional home-grown delicacies are served everywhere from 5-Star hotels to roadside stalls. Millions of us survive on small street carts dishing out cheap meals. In the midst of this cacophony, Food Safety - FSSAI was created to sniff into everything that you eat. To improve food safety on farms and on our plates, FSSAI was given the mandate to make eating safer. And is it a coincidence that trade calls it FaSSAI, hindi for trapped.

As a wide-eyed intern, I was obviously flabbergasted after digging deep into the plate. The promise, pains and the problems of the street food tradition are on full display in India. Sid Khullar, a food commentator and founder of the blog ChefAtLarge says "I don't think there's any kind of checking happening there and it's possibly one of the filthiest places to eat at. Street food would go down a lot easier, if there were more stringent checks of quality and hygiene to make sure it's safe to eat.” FSSAI had plans to do to just that but sadly they are driving down a different highway altogether.

Every school-child knows about the adulteration in milk, paneer, Desi Ghee, Haldi, Spices, etc. but somehow all that Munna Bhai FaSSAI does, is to turn a blind eye to this all. I almost puked when a Maharaj (cook) at my friend’s place told me that GolGappa sellers spike the Khatta Paani with a capful of Toilet cleaning Acid. 

Savvy Soumya Misra, a specialist in food safety at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi says "In India you take the Indian consumer for granted, but you go out of your way to ensure that whatever you're exporting is absolutely world class. So it has to be understood, that whatever Indians are consuming also should be good standard food and not just any food."

Roaming around, meeting people from trade and industry, I realized that FSSAI is like a joke imposed on us. A visit to Yojana Bhawan that houses the Health Ministry, gives you a picture of the intent and thought of the people behind Food Safety. Arun Pandey, runs a Chholey Kulche stall on his rickety thela with a large monstrous brass pot carrying his daily inventory, wrapped in a red lungi cloth. The Kulchas come out of a plastic sheet and he heats them on an inverted tawa marinated with the dust & flies again. The Babu from the Health Ministry nonchalantly chomps off his chickpea lunch, and growls at Ajay with his mouthful for a piece of hari mirch. Obviously, I got the message, loud and clear at this point. Munna Bhai FaSSAI is just taking us for a ride.

A call to Food Safety did not materialize since Madam ji was busy. On enquiring further I realized that Madam ji, Dr Sandhya Kabra, ex-NACO was a ferocious lady with frizzled hair who is known in the department as the one who shoots off her mouth. She has been the draconian face of FSSAI for quite some time now and has been reprimanded by the Delhi High Court recently. A producer of namkeen on conditions of anonymity says “you have to talk to madam ji once, to know what FSSAI is all about. She is like a terrorist in the garb of a woman and can out-shout everybody in every meeting with fistfuls of expletives thrown in.” She is ably supported by a Dr Pandian (sic) who is a veterinary medical professional. Imagine, the country’s Food Safety for humans, being decided by a veterinarian.

And finally when I prepare to submit this piece, I read in today’s Times of India about Wines, Chocolates, Cheese, Olives, Canola oil and Apples being stopped on some pretext or other by Munna Bhai. Maybe FaSSAI should know that imported food products undergo stringest tests and scrutiny in one of the best factories across the world. At the breakfast table, I silently ate my favourite Washington Apple, the crunchiest bread pakoras fried in Canola oil and threw in a big chunk of dark chocolate in my mouth, thinking about life without them. I rushed to office to file my story, “Kal ho naa ho!”

Press Information
The Knowledge Tank
T-60 New Rohtak Road
Karol Bagh

Sakshi Verma
Media Intern

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