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The Economic Times

Government may have accidentally decontrolled sugar with new food law

NEW DELHI: The government may have accidentally decontrolled sugar and other essential commodities by the recent notification of a new law that aims to consolidate laws relating to food quality.

The food ministry has written to the Cabinet Secretariat seeking immediate changes to the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The act has repealed all existing orders under Essential Commodities Act, 1955, that regulates and controls essential commodities and public distribution retrospectively from August 2011.

This has virtually made food ministry toothless, and put a question mark on the legality of the Sugar Control Order, Sugarcane (Control) Order, Levy Sugar Supply Order and Sugar (Packaging and Marking) Order that mandates use of jute bags for sugar.

"The repeal of these orders impacts the functioning of the Public Distribution System, affecting families below the poverty line. It is imperative therefore that immediate action be taken to carry out necessary amendments in the FSSAct, 2006...," the food ministry has written in a frantic note to the cabinet secretariat.

According to the Gazette notification, the section 97 of the FSS Act, 2006, empowers the central government to repeal existing enactments specified in Second Schedule, which include any other order issued under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 relating to food.

"The supply and equitable distribution of food grain, sugar and edible oils at ration shops is maintained through the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The imposing of compulsory levy on rice and sugar millers is also exercised through orders under this Act. Now that, all the existing orders are repealed, food ministry doesn't have provisions to regulate supply and distribution of food items," said an industry official, who doesn't wish to be identified.

The ministry officials, however, say that repealing of existing orders will impact the functioning but can't stop from exercising powers.

"There is definitely some ambiguity. We need more clarity on the notification. But it can't stop us from exercising whatever power the ministry has. The FSS Act 2006 may have repealed the existing orders under EC Act but it has not quashed it. We can always frame new orders whenever need be under the EC Act to regulate supply and distribution of food items," said a food ministry official.
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