Unsafe food: FSSAI norms not consumer-friendly
NEW DELHI: Government agencies may be making tall claims of protecting consumer rights, particularly in case of food products, but the existing legal provisions expose how people are at the mercy of retailers and state agencies to get justice when they suspect a product to be unsafe or adulterated.
According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Act, the consumer has to inform the retailer that he is buying the product for testing and he must take a receipt. Consumer activists and even officials said in all probability, retailers would refuse to sell products in such cases.
Pointing out how such provisions are impractical to implement, Suresh Misra, professor of consumer affairs at Indian Institute of Public Administration, said, “The minute a consumer says why he is buying the product, no retailer will sell the item. This is despite the fact that the retailer won’t be held responsible for any defect in the product.”
He added that government agencies should be proactive and pick up samples regularly for testing rather than expecting consumers to do this. “You can imagine how government departments have not even used the legal provisions. 19 years since the Consumer Protection Act came into existence with provision for ‘class action’, such a complaint was filed for the first time only last week,” Misra said.
Even FSSAI officials admitted that provisions in the present act do not encourage consumers to pursue cases. The act says after getting a sample from the retailer, the purchaser has to take the product to the food analyst.
“Then the consumer is again at the mercy of the food analyst. It’s up to him to undertake the test promptly or cite some reason or the other to delay the test even after taking the requisite fees,” a senior FSSAI official said.
Subsequently, the food analyst shall forward the report to the “designated officer”, who takes a final decision for prosecution. Sources said the proposed amendments to the Act may address such ‘impractical’ provisions.
Meanwhile, the consumer affairs department in its proposed consumer protection law has tried to address some of the concerns by bringing failure of a retailer to provide receipt of any purchase under the provision of “unfair trade practice”.
Moreover, once consumers report complaints to the proposed Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), the agency will carry out raids, seize items and conduct investigations. However, in case of food items that fall under FSSAI Act, the CCPA will forward its investigation report to the food regulator seeking action against the violator.