Bombay High Court today, has quashed the ban on Nestle Maggi noodles imposed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, as it found that there were blatant violation of Principles of natural justicewhile imposing the ban. Nestle (India) had challenged the nationwide ban imposed by the Food Authority on its popular product Maggi Instant Noodles before the Bombay High Court. The Division bench comprising of Justices VM Kanade and Justice BP Colabawalla, observed “Though Respondents have been shouting from roof top that their action was in public interest as they found that the food which was contaminated by lead beyond permissible limit was unsafe for human consumption, they promptly swung into action and banned the product. The said tall claim has not been substantiated by them before us. Merely stating that the food was unsafe or that the action was in public interest is not sufficient.”
The court also found that the “Principles of natural justice have notbeen followed before passing the impugnedorders and on that ground alone theimpugned orders are liable to be set aside”. The court noted that “FoodLaboratories where the samples weretested were not accredited and recognizedLaboratories”and hence such test results cannot be trusted. It also held that the mandatory procedures that should have been followed while imposing the ban were not followed and also that the ban is violative of Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution of India.
However, the court directed the Nestle to send five samples from each batch cases out of 750 for testing and “if the lead is found within permissible limits then it would be permitted to manufacture all the variants of the Noodles for which product approval has beengranted by the Food Authority. These in turn would betested again in the said three Laboratories and if the lead isfound within permissible limits then the Petitioner would bepermitted to sell its product.” The court also added “we are still concerned about public health and public interest and therefore we are of the view that before allowing the Petitioner to manufacture and sell its product, Petitioner should send the 5 samples of each batch which are in their possession to three Food Laboratories accredited and recognized by NABL”. Nestle has also made a statement thatit would not manufacture or sell the noodles. Though the court was requested to stay the judgment, it refused to grant the stay in view of the statement made by Nestle.
134 page Judgment discusses various issues, mainly the violation of principles of natural justice, and non-compliance with mandatory procedures. As regards the issue of natural justice the court found that there is a violation and held “the Food Authority should have given a proper opportunity to the Petitioner – Company to prove that its product was safe for human consumption and it was not necessary to impose a nationwide ban on the product, particularly when the Petitioner had already, one day before the impugned order at Exhibit-A was passed, had given a press release, stating therein that Petitioner was recalling its product from the market.”. Having found that the mandatory procedural requirements were not followed, the court observed that “There is no material on record to show whether the procedure of testing samples which is mentioned under the Act and Rules and Regulations framed thereunder has been followed. There is a grave doubt about the samples being tested at Avon Food Lab (Pvt.) Ltd. and even if they are so tested, prima facie, it does appear that procedure of testing the samples has not been followed.”
The court ruled that there is a violation of fundamental rights held “Action of the State of not supplying the material on the basis of which the action was taken and not giving a personal hearing to the Petitioner and issuing an order of ban when Petitioner itself had withdrawn the product clearly falls within the four corners of arbitrariness and is therefore violative of Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution of India.” The court found it shocking that all 9 variants of Maggi Noodles were banned by testing the samples of only of its variant three variants. According to High court this was yet another instance of arbitrariness.
Live Law had covered the controversial ban of Maggi extensively which may be read here. The court had refused to stay the ban order earlier but had allowed the export.
Read the Judgment here