Police cannot probe food safety complaints, says high court - Hindustan Times
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Police cannot probe food safety complaints, says high court

By, Chandigarh
Nov 05, 2023 07:56 AM IST

High court says in cases of misbranded or substandard food articles, criminal cases cannot be registered by police

The Punjab and Haryana high court has ruled that in cases of misbranded and substandard food articles, criminal cases can’t be registered by police.

The high court bench of justice Jasjit Singh Bedi quashed a criminal case registered in Patiala, wherein the local police had invoked the Indian Penal Code, slapping sections pertaining to adulteration of food, sale of item unfit for consumption and criminal conspiracy. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The high court bench of justice Jasjit Singh Bedi quashed a criminal case registered in Patiala, wherein the local police had invoked the Indian Penal Code, slapping sections pertaining to adulteration of food, sale of item unfit for consumption and criminal conspiracy. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The high court bench of justice Jasjit Singh Bedi quashed a criminal case registered in Patiala, wherein the local police had invoked the Indian Penal Code (IPC), slapping sections pertaining to adulteration of food, sale of item unfit for consumption and criminal conspiracy.

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Food safety authorities had raided a local manufacturing unit in August 2018, and seized various items, including 7,000 litres of milk, 19 quintals of cheese, 24 quintals of desi ghee, 40 kg butter, 367 bags of dry milk, cans of acid, 300 packets of washing powder. On lab examination, all items were found to be “misbranded or substandard”.

Subsequently, a fine of 4.75 lakh was imposed on the petitioner, Anil Kumar Singla. However, by virtue of criminal case registered by police, a challan was presented against him and others in a local court. It was the challan and registration of FIR by police that Singla challenged in high court in 2019.

He argued that the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, was a comprehensive and self-contained legislation. The special Act covered the domain of food safety and standards. As such, the IPC provisions will not apply and therefore, the FIR in question was not maintainable.

It was further argued that the petitioner had already been penalised through fine, which was deposited by him. Hence, the question of registration of the present FIR on the same cause of action will not arise.

Quashing the FIR, the HC bench observed that when there was a special Act governing the field of food adulteration, the provisions of the IPC were not attracted.

“…once the food was found to be of substandard quality or was misbranded, an FIR under the IPC being maintainable is fallacious,” the bench recorded, adding that the 2006 Act was a special Act covering the field of food safety and standards.

‘Food safety law takes precedence over IPC’

Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, a distinction has been drawn between misbranded and substandard food on the one hand and unsafe food on the other hand. Even if the food that was sought to be sold was unsafe for human consumption, the provisions of the Act can be resorted to prosecute the accused, which means the designated officer after completion of probe files final report before the designated court. But criminal proceedings under the Indian Penal Code cannot be launched.

The HC bench in its order

Provisions under the Act

Misbranding: An article of food sold with misleading or deceptive claims through labelling or advertisement.

Fine: Up to 3 lakh

Substandard: An article of food is deemed to be substandard if it does not meet the specified standards but not so as to render it unsafe.

Fine: Up to 5 lakh

Unsafe: An article of food whose nature, substance or quality is so affected, which makes it injurious to health, partly or wholly contains poisonous or deleterious substances.

Fine: Imprisonment ranging from six months to life.

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