08 Nov 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On norms against food rich in fat, sugar and salt: Junking fast food
- In a welcome step, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India - FSSAI has notified a draft regulation aimed at prohibiting the sale and advertisement of food rich in fat, sugar and salt to schoolchildren inside the school premises and within 50 m around it.
- It comes in response to the 2015 order from the Delhi High Court directing the central agency to frame norms to promote healthy diets in schools.
- Besides prohibiting the sale of junk food, the FSSAI requires schools to simultaneously encourage and promote a safe and balanced diet.
- In a bid to shield the children from consuming unhealthy food items and snacks, the FSSAI prohibits food companies that manufacture such items from advertising or offering for free such foods in school premises and within 50 m of the campus.
- To thwart food companies from luring children to consume foods rich in fat, sugar and salt, the companies are prohibited from using their logos, brand names and product names on books and other educational materials, as well as on school property such as buildings, buses, and athletic fields.
- As a general guidance to provide wholesome food, the agency recommends the use of a combination of whole grains, milk, eggs, and millets; it also listed a set of general guidelines for selection of food products that can be offered in schools.
- Even as malnutrition accounted for over seven lakh (68%) deaths in children under the age of five years in 2017 in India, there is rising obesity in schoolchildren in many States.
- According to a July 2017 study, India, with 14.4 million, had the second most number of obese children among 195 countries. A recent study found 23 States to have child overweight prevalence more than the national average, with six States having a prevalence of over 20%.
- Several studies have shown how a western diet affects the composition and diversity of gut bacteria and sets the stage for many metabolic diseases.
- Hence, any attempt to reduce and discourage the intake of unhealthy foods, which is a major cause of unhealthy weight gain in children, should be welcomed.
- The challenge will be in enforcement, particularly in preventing the sale and promotion of unhealthy food near schools. For instance, despite the sale and advertisement of tobacco products within 100 yards of a school being prohibited, violation is more the norm than the exception.
- Shops that sell tobacco products very often also sell many of the packaged unhealthy foods that the FSSAI now wants to ban. The onus of inculcating healthy eating habits also starts at home.
- Besides taking steps to reduce the intake of unhealthy food, both schools and parents should ensure children get adequate physical activity, which is increasingly being neglected for various reasons.
- It is a combination of healthy food and regular physical activity that will go a long way in bringing up healthier children.
2) On Alternative Investment Fund: Real estate shelter
- From first looks, the long-awaited package to support the real estate sector, cleared by the Cabinet on Wednesday, appears well-designed. The ₹25,000 crore Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has expanded in both size and scope from the earlier one announced in September.
- And the variables are clear such as the unit sizes that will be supported. The AIF will provide funds to bail out stalled real estate projects with unit size of less than ₹2 crore a unit in metros and ₹1 crore in other places.
- The Centre will contribute ₹10,000 crore, with the State Bank of India and Life Insurance Corporation of India providing the balance.
- The fund, to be managed by SBICAP Ventures, will offer support to viable projects with a positive net worth and registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority.
- What makes the scheme good is that it will also apply to projects that have been declared as non-performing assets by banks and to those lined up before the insolvency court.
- Apart from real estate promoters, this will also aid lenders, mainly finance companies and banks, whose funds are locked up in these projects.
- According to Ms. Sitharaman, over 1,600 projects involving some 4.58 lakh housing units are stalled for want of funds. There are also unsold units across the country with one market estimate putting their value at over ₹4 lakh crore.
- Most of the stalled projects are solvent but stuck for liquidity and with support from the AIF, can be completed, unlocking value not just for buyers but also precious cash for the project promoters and their lenders.
- The real estate sector is not only one of the biggest provider of jobs but also has a huge multiplier effect in the economy. Industries ranging from cement and steel to paints and sanitaryware stand to reap the benefits of a healthy real estate sector.
- This is apart from banks and financial institutions. While the AIF is a good idea, it is important that it is implemented without glitches. Too many good ideas have suffered due to bad implementation.
- The critical part will be identifying the genuine projects in need of support and ensuring that biases do not creep in. Also important will be attracting more investors into the AIF.
- The Finance Minister said that sovereign funds and other private investors have shown interest. These need to be followed upon quickly and money should be released from the AIF right away so that the trickle-down effect is felt before the end of this financial year.
- Along with private money in the AIF will also come return expectations that need to be managed. The government, through its latest move, and the Reserve Bank of India with successive rate cuts and liquidity infusion, have set the stage.
- The Alternative Investment Fund could help revive the stressed sector. The real estate industry now has to do its part.