New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday allowed the Centre`s plea that an expert committee would examine its recently-drafted guidelines on regulating sale of junk food and aerated drinks in and around schools premises.
"We have a seven-member expert committee. We would place the draft guidelines (on junk food) before the expert committee. Kindly give us four weeks time," Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Rajeeve Mehra, appearing for the Centre, told a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana.
The bench, also comprising Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, allowed the plea of the Centre and said that in the meantime, private parties like the Restaurants Association may file their representations to the expert committee on the issue.
During the hearing, senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for one of the parties, opposed the draft guidelines of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) saying that private firm AC Nielsen QRG-MARG Pvt Ltd cannot be allowed to frame them.
"At best, it (AC Nielsen QRG-MARG Pvt Ltd) can collect the data, but it cannot frame guidelines," he said. Similar plea was taken up by another senior lawyer Ashok Desai who said that the Food Safety and Standards Act has a specific provision and a private body cannot do this.
"The term junk food is a subjective term. A food item may be junk food for one and may not be for others," Singhvi said.
"Such submissions would derail the process. The issue raised in the PIL goes beyond the Act (Food Safety and Standards Act)," the bench said.
"We are looking at health issues. Obesity and even hypertension are becoming prevalent among children. We are aping the West," the ASG said.
Earlier, the court had given a 10-day deadline to the Centre to come out with detailed guidelines for regulating sale of junk food and aerated drinks in and around schools.
During the hearing, Singhvi said the guidelines have been framed after using the data collected from 600 schools in the country and "in a country like ours, this data cannot be satisfactory".
It has been suggested the students would be involved in vegetable farming in schools, he said, adding that it is not possible as the schools even lack playgrounds.
The court would now hear the matter on December 4.
Earlier, the Centre had said that private firm AC Nielsen QRG-MARG Pvt Ltd was in the process of framing norms to regulate availability of junk foods and carbonated drinks within 500 yards of schools.
It had also said that after the draft guidelines were prepared, the food processing companies would be consulted for their opinions and then the final guidelines will be made.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by Rakesh Prabhakar, a lawyer for NGO `Uday Foundation`, seeking a direction banning sale of junk food and aerated drinks in and around schools.
In January last year, the court had given six-months time to FSSAI for framing guidelines on banning sale of junk food and aerated drinks in and around educational institutions.
The court had also asked FSSAI to consult the All India Food Processors` Association (AIFPA) and restaurant associations for framing the guidelines.
AIFPA, in its application, had said that it deals with processing of fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, milk and milk products and also the manufacturers of biscuits and confectionery products.
It also said that it may give some advice to FSSAI.