Besides FDA rules, restaurants are bound by civic, penal laws, says GAJANAN KHERGAMKER.
If you are visiting a restaurant in Mumbai, chances are you will get trampled should there be a stampede; get scorched in a fire waiting to happen or, failing the above two, fall sick with the dismal quality of food being doled out to you at steep prices.
It was in December 2017 that 14 people were killed and 16 injured when a fire broke out in a rooftop restaurant and engulfed a four-storey building in Kamala Mills Complex. The city’s worst fears had come true. And, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had swiftly directed Mumbai’s Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to conduct an inquiry and pin the blame. Mr Mehta, on his part, suspended five Brihanmumbai Municipal officials and transferred Assistant Municipal Commissioner Prashant Sapkale immediately.
A year later, following a viral video of a Zomato Delivery boy pulling out a food box from his bag, taking a couple of bites before resealing it and leaving for the delivery’s location, the state’s Food and Drugs Administration sprung into action and initiated a series of raids on food outlets across the state.
After the initial uproar over the Zomato incident following the predictable ‘have-a-heart’ posts that wrote reams of how the ‘poor’ delivery boy’s ‘hunger’ and ‘long and erratic work timings’ were to be blamed rather than his act. Now, that the act was, in itself, a deficiency in service and a serious security lapse was missed by consumers. The authorities, read FDA, decided to take the issue by its horns.
Clamping down on trendy and popular online home delivery eateries – Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda, and Uber Eats—Food and Drug Administration authorities conducted raids on 350 outlets in Mumbai, 112 were found to have ‘shocking unhygienic conditions’, besides not having registered food licences.
The terms and conditions of the licences are formulated to ensure that food be prepared in hygienic, sanitised conditions; that medical reports of persons who are cooking and serving the food be regularly made available to the authorities. The FDA authorities learned that in Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and Uber eats, no such system was being followed.
In Pune, warning notices have been issued to 456 food establishments whose kitchens were found unclean and not adhering to the Food Safety and Standard Act norms. Members of various online food apps, the FDA authorities were shocked to find there was not one restaurant that was clean and served proper and hygienic food. They were asked to improve their services within 15 days or else they will be shut down.
Now, according to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), restaurants have to be transparent and kitchens should be visible to consumers. Also, customers keen on seeing how food is cooked or wanting to visit the kitchen should be permitted to do so. Apart from the online food apps where it is impossible to visit the kitchen or watch how the food is prepared, visiting a kitchen may seem viable but is refused outright by most restaurant owners and staff. Why, a popular restaurant serving cheap South Indian food at the Regal junction in South Mumbai, as is the case with most ‘local’ joints, has waiters sleeping in a state of undress ‘in’ the restaurant in an enclosed room in flagrant violation of the law due to ‘change of use’ from commercial to residential but is hugely popular owing to its touristy location. Also, few tourists will be keen on initiating complaints with FDA Maharashtra or the BMC owing to their short stays in the city.
A lot of the city’s smaller bars and restaurants have AC/ Eating sections even dark, unhygienic rooms doubling up as ‘rest rooms’ for their ‘staff’ when they take small breaks after working for extremely long hours in shifts broken by small breaks to ‘fit in the law’. Labour laws are flouted in restaurants across the city, particularly so, in tourist zones like SoBo with regular alacrity and utter disdain for the law.
FSSAI has already asked Swiggy, Zomato to de-list about 10,500 such restaurants which don’t have licences and are yet enrolled on their portals.
Interestingly, now if a restaurant anywhere in India does not give you a receipt for your payment or indulges in unfair trade practice, you could move a Consumer Forum under the spanking new Consumer Protection Act 2018 aimed to plug loopholes of the older version.
So, while the FDA and FSSAI issues are aimed to nip online food apps in the bud, the onus of complaining against the service of a restaurant or bar; food quality or waiter’s behaviour rests entirely upon you as the consumer.
A host of laws apply to restaurants and bars apart from ‘food quality’ and ‘transparency’ in cooking processes as laid down by FDA. They include police clearances of staff, waiters and managers; actual fire department clearances and not that sham of a poster about the restaurant being ‘Fire-Compliant’ that most of them put up to assuage fears of customers but do not ascertain the authentic completion of legal processes with the fire authorities and permissions from civic authorities for use of the premises for the said purpose.