More than 12,000 food business operators in the district are either yet to obtain licence or registration under the Food Safety and Standards Act as of Tuesday, the deadline set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The central government agency had warned of stringent legal action, including imprisonment, against food business firms operating without licence or registration beyond the February 4 deadline. However, sources in Tamil Nadu Food Safety and Drug Administration Department (Food Safety Wing), told The Hindu here that only 9,796 of the nearly 22,000 big and small food businesses operating in Coimbatore district had obtained licences/registrations by Tuesday. Apart from this, the applications of 420 companies were being processed.

A total of 220 firms had applied for licences in January and another 55 in February so far. A total of 200 applications for registration were given from January till now. Firms with annual turnover below Rs. 12 lakh will require registration and those above have to obtain licences.

The officials said that the main reason behind this low numbers was that many businesses were hoping that this deadline would again be extended this year. The FSSAI had extended the deadline twice since the Food Safety Act was notified on August 5, 2011. However, the FSSAI had warned that no further extensions would be given.

The official said that any enforcement drive by the Food Safety Wing could be taken up only after orders from the Food Safety Commissioner. The Food Safety Act mandated all food business ranging from roadside eateries and canteens to star-category hotels and restaurants to either register or obtain licence. It provided for imposing a fine of up to Rs. 5 lakh besides imprisonment for up to six months on food businesses operating without licences.