The Kerala High Court disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed alleging inaction on the part of the respondents in taking adequate measures against companies which are selling adulterated curry powders and for prohibiting advertisement of such food products, which are already found to be adulterated and hazardous to people’s health.
The petitioner, Leonard John, had earlier filed a PIL in 2018 praying for prohibition of manufacture and sale of curry powders containing Ethion pesticides in various brand names which were found to be adulterated by the Regional Analytical Laboratory in Kakkanad, as well as to cancel the licence of those companies found to be violating safety standards and also to maintain system of control against contamination of food products etc. In the said petition, the Court passed judgment, recording the submission of the Senior Government Pleader that, pursuant to the inspection of units in 2018, seven manufacturers of curry powders, found to have used Ethion pesticides more than the permissible limit, prosecution was recommended by the designated officer, and that, it was decided to prosecute on issuance of sanction from the Food Safety Commissioner.
According to the petitioner, in spite of the directions in the said judgment that the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and the Regulations thereto shall be strictly followed, the manufacturers sell curry powders which are found to be adulterated and not up to the standards prescribed by the authorities and it is contended that, they market those products by advertisement through film stars and celebrities. The petitioner has also given certain illustrations of advertisements of those products through film stars and celebrities. According to the petitioner, people are using unsafe and adulterated food products because of wide publicity given to the products by the companies through film stars and celebrities.
The petitioner then filed a petition in 2020 for direction to the State Government to take appropriate action against those Food Safety Officers who are found to be delinquent in their duties in a state-wide raid conducted by the Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau. The said petition was disposed of by the Court by judgment, directing the Secretary, Health Department to consider the reports submitted by the Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram and take further action in accordance with law.
The petitioner contended that in spite of the directions in the judgments, no action is forthcoming from the Government and thereby the food products, which are unsafe are still available in the market.
During the hearing, the petitioner has produced information received under the Right to Information Act, 2005 whereby, the Food Safety Commissioner, Kerala had furnished the names of brands of curry powders which are adulterated and also the details of chemicals contained in various brands. The petitioner states that no information is forthcoming as to the action taken against those companies. According to the petitioner, though the Food Safety Commissioner furnished information stating that they have given sanction for prosecution against some manufacturers, distributors and sellers and launched prosecution in various Judicial First Class Magistrate Courts, the details as to which court and what action have been taken are not forthcoming. The petitioner states that there is total inaction on the part of the respondents in taking adequate measures against the companies which are selling adulterated curry powders.
A counter-affidavit has been filed on behalf of the State and the Food Safety Commissioner/ respondents 3 and 4. It is stated therein that the Food Safety Department frequently conducts inspections and take samples of food articles including spices and condiments as per the FSS Act, 2006 and if any manufacturers/distributors/sellers are found to be violating the provisions of the Act, they will be punished as per the said Act. It is further stated that in recent inspection and sampling of spices, the maximum residual limit of pesticides in the food articles was found high and prosecution steps have been taken and cases are pending in various courts. Referring to Sections 18 and 29 of the FSS Act, 2006, it is stated that, as per the said provisions, it is the duty of the Food Safety Department to ensure safe and wholesome food products to the general public.
The Additional Director General of Prosecution contended that stringent steps have been taken by respondents 3 and 4 under the FSS Act, 2006 against the companies which are found to be selling adulterated food products.
The counter-affidavit of respondents 3 and 4 is indicative of the steps taken by respondents 3 and 4 under the FSS Act, 2006 against the companies which are found to be selling adulterated food products and against the Food Safety Officers who were found to be delinquent in their duties.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Murali Purushothaman noted that proceedings for adjudication and prosecution have been initiated against the manufacturers, distributors and sellers for unsafe food products in various districts in the State and in most cases, trial is pending.
In the light of the counter-affidavit filed by respondents 3 and 4, the Court was satisfied that steps have been taken under the FSS Act, 2006 by respondents 3 and 4 against the companies selling adulterated food products and proceedings for adjudication and prosecution have been initiated against the manufacturers, distributors, sellers for unsafe food product.
Recording the said statement of respondents 3 and 4 in the counter affidavit, the Bench disposed of the petition observing that respondents 3 and 4 will ensure that the provisions of the FSS Act, 2006 and the Rules and Regulations framed thereunder will be strictly followed by respondents 3 and 4 and stringent action be taken against the offenders who violate the provisions of the FSS Act, 2006 and the Rules and Regulations framed thereunder.