20 March: Swiggy and Zomato’s statements to MediaNama said:
- “At Swiggy we have deep regard for the city we operate in and complete respect for the sentiments of its people. We deeply regret the lapse in delivering non-veg food in the restricted area. We addressed this immediately and would like to reiterate that as of March 16, Swiggy is delivering only vegetarian food from local restaurants across all areas in Haridwar. As the industry leader, Swiggy has a central FSSAI licence and only lists FSSAI registered restaurants on the platform. We are happy to extend the necessary support to the concerned authorities to address the situation in an apt manner.”
- Zomato: “Our long-held mission is ‘better food for more people’ and we place user experience at the centre of everything we do. All the restaurants on our platform are FSSAI complaint and we have already applied for a license for our operations in Haridwar and other locations. As a responsible platform, we respect the religious sentiments of the holy city and are currently delivering only vegetarian food.”
Previously, 18 March: Swiggy and Zomato have been served with notices from the Uttarakhand Food Department’s Food Safety section for delivering meat/non-vegetarian food in some parts of the city where it is restricted, reports the Times of India. According to the report, these notices were served following unspecified complaints from locals.
MediaNama was unable to reach Haridwar’s district level office and officer, but has reached out to both Zomato and Swiggy, and will update this when we hear from them.
RS Pal, the department’s deputy food safety officer, told TOI that Zomato and Swiggy could not produce FSSAI licenses on inspection of their offices, nor did they have ‘no objection certificates’ from the municipality to deliver non-veg food. This made them in violation of local laws, hurting the sentiments of the locals.
Zomato told TOI that it had been working with the Food Department for the last 1 year to ‘ensure that there were no complaints’ and that it had already applied for its license. Swiggy, on the other hand, said that it was sorry for the oversight in this regard and would only deliver vegetarian food in Haridwar going forward. Swiggy added that it had a central FSSAI license.
Challenges of being an online business in India: online is offline is online
- Regulation (or the lack thereof): Like in the case of cab aggregators, food delivery companies have found themselves in a knot over regulations of traditional and offline businesses such as taxis, and in the case of Zomato and Swiggy, restaurants, for the lack of regulation catching up with internet businesses. Both, naturally, claim only to be the connectors or enablers of platforms on which a buyer and a seller meet.
- Local laws and licenses: Additionally, different cities have different restrictions when it comes to food, as in the case of Haridwar, which is a holy city. Even within Haridwar, meat can only be served in certain areas, apparently, after permission from the local municipality. Regulators have been after food delivery companies to get FSSAI licenses, effectively making them restaurants, which they are not.
The challenge for online businesses really is that inasmuch as they claim to be a platform, regulators only look at the end product to the consumer: transport and food delivery. For consumers, it really doesn’t make a difference as long their needs are met, whichever medium it may be through.
This disparity from regulators ultimately hurts the consumer (could be in any form: packaging prices, delivery fee, surge fee etc). In an open economy, choice is the ultimate king, and regulators need to understand that.