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The Supreme Court in its August 5 judgment on milk adulteration has come down harshly on the life threatening practice of milk adulteration. It has directed the central government to amend the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to introduce punitive provisions, especially for acts related to the adulteration of milk. The Court suggested life imprisonment for adulteration, which is already the case in states such as West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. As per the FSSA, 2006, food adulteration is punishable with imprisonment up to six months and a fine.

The court said, “Considering the seriousness of the offence and referring to the amendment to Section 272 Indian Penal Code made by states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha, wherein the punishment for adulteration of food and products is enhanced to imprisonment for life and also fine, that similar amendments are to be made in other states as well.”

The apex court bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justices R Banumathi and UU Lalit, while issuing judgement took strong note of the report submitted by the petitioners (the SC was hearing a clutch of petitions from several individuals, who were being represented by advocate Anurag Tomar). The report titled as Executive Summary on National Survey on Milk Adulteration, 2011, released by Foods Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had concluded that on a national level, 68.4 per cent of milk being sold was adulterated and the worst performers in the survey were allegedly Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Mizoram, Jharkhand and Daman and Diu, where adulteration in milk was found up to 100 percent. In the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh 88 percent of milk samples were found adulterated.

Dairy owners, milk cooperatives and even big brands are equally guilty. Presence of detergent, urea, glucose and contaminated water has been found in your glass of nutrition drink. 

The court also took cue from the petitioner’s submission that milk is the only source of nourishment for infants and a major part of the diet for growing children in tender age and if no effective measure is taken to ensure the purity of milk, health of the children will be adversely affected.

Disposing of the PIL, the apex court issued following directions and observations:

  • Union of India and the state governments shall take appropriate steps to implement Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, in a more effective manner.
  • States shall take appropriate steps to inform owners of dairy, dairy operators and retailers working in the state that if chemical adulterants like pesticides, caustic soda and other chemicals are found in the milk, then stringent action will be taken against the dairy operators or retailers or all the persons involved in the same.
  • State Food Safety Authority should also identify high risk areas (where there is greater presence of petty food manufacturer/business operator etc.) and times (festive occasions etc.) when there is risk of ingesting adulterated milk or milk products due to environmental and other factors and greater number of food samples should be taken from those areas.
  • State Food Safety Authorities should also ensure that there is adequate lab testing infrastructure and ensure that all labs have/obtain NABL accreditation to facilitate precise testing. State governments should ensure that state food testing laboratories/district food laboratories are well-equipped with the technical persons and testing facilities.
  • Special measures should be undertaken by the State Food Safety Authorities (SFSA) and district authorities for sampling of milk and milk products, including spot testing through mobile food testing vans equipped with primary testing kits for conducting qualitative test of adulteration in food.
  • Since the snap short survey conducted in 2011 revealed adulteration of milk by hazardous substances including chemicals, such snap short surveys are to be conducted periodically both in the state as well as at the national level by FSSAI.
  • For curbing milk adulteration, an appropriate state level committee headed by the chief secretary or the secretary of dairy department and district level committee headed by the concerned district collector shall be constituted as is done in the state of Maharashtra to take the review of the work done to curb the milk adulteration in the district and in the state by the authorities.
  • To prevent adulteration of milk, the concerned state department shall set up a website thereby specifying the functioning and responsibilities of food safety authorities and also creating awareness about complaint mechanisms. In the website, the contact details of the joint commissioners including the food safety commissioners shall be made available for registering the complaints on the said website. All states should also have and maintain toll free telephonic and online complaint mechanism.
  • In order to increase consumer awareness about ill effects of milk adulteration as stipulated in Section 18(1)(f) the states/food authority/commissioner of food safety shall inform the general public of the nature of risk to health and create awareness of food safety and standards. They should also educate school children by conducting workshops and teaching them easy methods for detection of common adulterants in food, keeping in mind indigenous technological innovations (such as milk adulteration detection strips etc.)
  • Union of India/state governments to evolve a complaint mechanism for checking corruption and other unethical practices of the food authorities and their officers.

It is not the first time that the apex court has rapped the Centre for its inaction in framing tougher laws in checking the food adulteration. The Court has, time and again, reiterated its stand on food adulteration. The apex court had rapped the Centre and the states in 2015, seeking stringent norms to curb rampant food adulteration while hearing a PIL. In the same year, a major food adulteration issue cropped up when FSSAI found that Maggi noodles contained more than the permitted amounts of lead and MSG. In the recent episode of food adulteration in June this year, FSSAI banned potassium bromate and Potassium iodate as a food additives in breads as that these additives promote cancer. In 2014, a deputy manager of Mother Dairy was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by a Delhi court for supplying adulterated low fat cream to a hotel.

Electronic media and social media have been replete with coverage of how water melon is artificially colored to make it look attractive, and how cucumber, in order to look bigger, is injected with a harmone, and how mangoes are artificially ripened by using calcium carbide. In fact, Dinesh Trivedi, a cabinet minister in the UPA-II government, had dashed a letter to health ministry officials stating the harm caused by injecting of Oxytocin, a harmone given to women during child birth, in vegetables.

In 1998, adulteration of mustard oil had caused dropsy and claimed several lives in Delhi. And tea, coffee and alcoholic drinks have also found to be adulterated.

Here’s enough adulterated food for thought.

—Punit Mishra    

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