Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Food laws are a joke

I have been quiet for the last few days. Combination of a lot of factors, not necessarily connected to each other. Laziness, the fact that I do not like the monsoon/rains, the fact that I have been somewhat busy and our internet has been acting up; are some of the factors.

What better to get the creative juices flowing than to do some Government bashing? I really, sincerely hope that our Pradhan Mantri Shri Narendra Modi actually manages to pull off his `more governance less government’ statements. Anyway, back to the story.

I am sure you have heard the cliché - you are what you eat. To ensure that we eat the finest and most healthy food, our collective Nanny i.e. the Government, has myriad laws, rules regulation notification ordinances directives and office orders. To join the party, if I am not mistaken, the Bombay High Court has said that cooking food on the streets is not permitted. I am unaware if this judgement still stands and if the no cooking policy applies to only hawkers or generally. That would make life very difficult for the slum dwellers etc. Despite this we have hawkers, unlicensed food sellers, grossly unhygienic food preparation storage and transportation. I am sure you have read and seen glowing reports on blogs, newspapers and on TV of `street food’ stalls – Bade Miya at Colaba, the Pao Bhaji stalls, the Vada Pao at Kirti College and so many more. All unlicensed, all illegal in every way and all with zero hygiene standards. How any one of us are still alive beats me hollow. The thought of eating green chutney makes my shudder. Imagine the raw coriander, mint and chillies, all unwashed or badly washed. If washed, washed in dubious water. Then, these ingredients are mulched together in a blender ensuring that the mud, fertilizer and God knows what else is evenly distributed. Eeek!!

A few days ago, as a shareholder of The Indian Hotels Company Limited, I received the Abridged Prospectus to the issue if Rights shares by the Company. The Indian Hotels Company Limited is the owner of the Taj brand as well as Vivanta, Ginger and Gateway. The company operates some of India’s finest hotels. The Company is internationally known and has a high reputation. One assumes that they would operate within the four corners of the law, and in accordance with the best practices used in the industry.

Alas, I was wrong. If you read the section relating to litigations against the Company in the Abridged Prospectus you will realise what the truth of the matter is. Permit me to enlighten you...

1.     The Company operated a restaurant called Skywok at NOIDA. There are proceedings against the Chef for storing adulterated curds.

2.     The Food Safety Office at Delhi has prosecuted the Taj Palace Hotel Delhi for misbranding Sheerbhog Idli Rava.

3.     This one is really cute. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau – yes, you read that correctly – has prosecuted the Taj Man Singh Delhi as they found references to `sea cucumber’ on the menu of the Chinese restaurant. Not only was sea cucumber mentioned on the menu, but, horror of horrors, they found some sea cucumbers in the kitchens. Apparently, a sea cucumber is a scheduled animal under the Wildlife Protection Act. Possessing sea cucumbers, presumably legitimately imported under the relevant import statutes would still be in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. Such are the laws of our country.

4.     At the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, the Health Department of Rajasthan prosecuted the executives for serving inferior paneer.

I have picked just a few of the litigations against the Taj. There are 4 pages listing various litigations against the Company.

Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that two wrongs make a right, or, just because `X’ is being let off `Y’ should also be let off. The Indian Hotels Company Limited, as I am sure ITC, Leela, Oberoi, all hotel owners, have been similarly prosecuted. I am sure Chefs, hotel managers and Managing Directors of all these companies are facing several legal proceedings both civil and criminal. The point I am labouring to make is that all these companies run high end hotels and restaurants and can ill afford to serve `poisonous’ food. I know that commercial kitchens are not the cleanest places in the world, but one can assume that the kitchens, storage facilities etc in these establishments are better, far far better than any standalone restaurant and certainly better that the thousands of road side hawker stalls. But, I am sure that not one of those hawkers is facing proceedings under any of the statutes pertaining to food. If there is any proceeding against them, which itself I doubt, it would be under some illegal hawking, road obstruction kind of proceeding. These hawkers violate every known Indian statute, they charge you no taxes of any kind, obviously pay no taxes of any kind, but despite this they flourish and remain prosecution less.

Reading the prosecutions against Indian Hotels Company Limited, really makes me wonder when our Nanny will treat us all equally. If only she did, we would have such a good life and our cities would be pleasant.

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