Mumbai: Food Safety Standards Association of India (FSSAI) Wednesday argued in the Bombay High Court that a mere suspicion about a food snack being sub-standard in quality would be a reasonable ground to take appropriate steps to stop the sale of the product.
This was stated by FSSAI Counsel Anil Singh after a bench of Justices V M Kanade and B P Colabwala raised a query whether the food requlator should ban a particular batch of a food item whose quality was found sub-standard or stop the sale of the entire product line.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Nestle India against FSSAI's June 5 order banning nine variants of Maggi and Maharashtra government's order prohibiting the sale of Maggi.
When the matter was called out for hearing today, the government lawyers, representing FSSAI and FDA, were not present, prompting the bench to reprimand the authorities for not taking this matter seriously.
"We (India) have been going around from country to country seeking business but commercial matters (litigations) remain pending for years. These matters are important and that is why Parliament is considering to set up 'Commercial benches' (in courts). People (MNCs) prefer to go to Singapore and London because of this, instead of India for arbitration," Justice Kanade observed.
Anil Singh, senior counsel and acting Advocate General of Maharashtra, said that in the case of Maggi there have been violations of law. Their (Maggi's) label was misleading as it said "No MSG" in contents. Also, the presence of lead in the product was beyond permissible limits, he added.
Singh said that even tobacco was banned in some states because it is harmful for adults. But Maggi was basically consumed by many children in the age group of 1 to 5 years. If lead is found in Maggi beyond the permissible limits, the health of children would be seriously hit, he submitted.
A food article cannot contain contaminated material or heavy metal toxic substance, the FSSAI counsel said.
The judges further observed "we are here to test whether your (FSSAI's) action was reasonable and proper or arbitrary. You (FSSAI) may like it or not...Fortunately under article 226 of the Constitution (which empowers the court to interfere in such matters), we can examine the executive action and legislative competence."
The court asked FSSAI to formulate issues and continue its argument tomorrow.
During last hearing, Nestle India had told the Bombay High Court that a certain batch of its instant food product may have contained lead beyond permissible limit but government's decision to impose a blanket ban was unfair and illegal.
If a particular batch was substandard, it could have been banned but stopping the entire production was not justified, Nestle's lawyer, Iqbal Chhagla had argued.
"Without receiving any complaint, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has banned our product, due to which we lost goodwill, reputation and suffered huge losses running into crores of rupees," Nestle had submitted.
The company claimed that it had tested its product in 2700 laboratories in India and also abroad and the tests have indicated that the lead content was less than the permissible limit of 0.5 percent.