The Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 came into being by exercising the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 4 and sub-section 91) of section 23 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The Central Government initiated this after consultation with the Central Committee for food standards. The food inspector must inspect the manufacture, storage and sale of an article of food within the area assigned to him as prescribed by the Food (health) Authority. He has to procure the product further and send it for analysis if there is a reason to suspect that operations are in contravention of the provisions of the Act or rules. He is also authorised to investigate any complaint which arises on such contravention. Rule 32 prescribes the contents of the label. It says that the name, trade name, description of food and business address of the manufacturer have to be mentioned.
Further, the preservatives or colouring agents used and the net weight or volume of the contents of the product has to be specified. Rule 32(e) specifically states that "a batch number or code number either in Hindi or English numerals or alphabets or in combination." Has to be mentioned. This is the rule that the current case focuses on.
Raghav Gupta was one of the directors of M/s. V&V Beverages Pvt. Ltd. which imported its drink from the foreign manufacturer Schweppes International Rye Brook. All their cargo was duly cleared for entry by the Indian customs department. On 3rd May 2011, the food inspector purchased their Snapple juice drink for inspection and analysis. The public analyst released his report on 30th May 2011. The report stated that the product had passed all the required tests and was up to the desired standards. However, the product was deemed to have been misbranded under Rule 32(e) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 as the required batch/lot number had not been mentioned on the packaging. The food inspector lodged a complaint based on the findings of this report. The appellant was issued notices under Section 251, Crpc. On receiving the notice, he moved for an application of discharge under Section 294 of the Crpc read with Section 192 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, among other things. His application was dismissed by both the tribunal court and the high court, and thus, he petitioned the Supreme Court of India which heard his case.
The appellant contested because the product fulfilled the requirements according to the rule. He claimed that although there was no explicit mention of the lot number, the product had a barcode on it which contained all the relevant information. Ms Geeta Luthra was the counsel appearing on behalf of Raghav and Shri Jayant K. Sud, learned Addl. Solicitor General appeared on behalf of the respondent. The submission made by Geeta before the Supreme Court was that the contents of the barcode were sufficient to fulfil the criteria set down by rule 32(e). The same could also be revealed by using a barcode scanner. The Supreme Court held that this submission was valid. The thing in question wasn’t the availability of the barcode on the sample product but rather, if the information on the barcode satisfied rule 32(e), the court. Therefore, the court did not see any point in continuing with the present prosecution as it would be an abuse of the process of law as well as a sheer waste of time. It was also believed that continuing the hearing would cause unnecessary harassment to the appellant. The court allowed the appellant’s appeal and quashed the prosecution.
As a result of the decision, the appellant was allowed to proceed with his manufacturing method. It was established that the barcode had all the required information and satisfied the criteria of rule 32(e). The prosecution's claims that M/s. V & V Beverages Pvt. Ltd. had faulty packaging was squashed. The appellant can thus continue with the same packaging method as long as the barcode scanner reveals the batch number.
One of the main reasons behind enacting the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and bringing the rules under its scope is to regulate the products offered to consumers. The products offered to consumers have to be of a certain standard. Since the consumer market has become so important, consumers must get the best quality products possible. There has also been an increased awareness among consumers, thereby leading to a fall in trade malpractices. Consumers also have the right to petition the consumer courts to seek redressal for their grievances. This also means that informed consumers will call out small inaccuracies in the products and take them to court. To avoid disputes like this, the Food Authority acts as a mediator essentially by preventing such a scenario. They are also in charge of making sure there are no malpractices taking place among producer or manufacturer chains. If the food standard is not reached, the company does not get the quality mark that leads to it losing credibility among consumers. These rules also complement the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 under which consumers have the right to know all product details, description along with the manufacture and expiry date, batch number and colouring agents or other additives added in the product. If any of this information is not stated, the consumers have a right to move the consumer court to seek redressal. The case at hand fulfilled the criteria. Although it wasn't directly mentioned on the packaging, it was shown in the barcode. Therefore, if a consumer wanted to know the batch number specifically, they could confirm by scanning the barcode. This does not violate provisions under the RTI act, and it is my opinion that the court was right to allow the appeal and rule in favour of the appellant.
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