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Accused Charged With Food Adulteration Cannot Be Acquitted Merely Because Deficiency Was Marginal: SC [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
4 Oct 2019 11:52 AM GMT
Accused Charged With Food Adulteration Cannot Be Acquitted Merely Because Deficiency Was Marginal: SC [Read Judgment]

"If it fails to comply with the standards then it will have to be treated as an adulterated article even if it is not rendered injurious to health."

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The Supreme Court has observed that if the standards prescribed under Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, are not complied with, the accused charged with adulteration cannot be acquitted only on the ground that the deficiency is marginal.

In this case [Raj Kumar vs. State of UP], the contention raised on behalf of the accused was that when there is a marginal variation from the standards prescribed, the courts should give benefit of doubt to the accused. Milk Fat (MF) in the sample collected from the accused's concern was found to be 4.6% and Milk Solid Non-Fat (MSNF for short) was 7.7%, against the prescribed standard of 8.5%. He was convicted by trial court, which conviction was upheld by the Sessions Court and the High Court.

While rejecting the contention raised during the appeal, the bench comprising Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose observed that once standards are laid down by the Legislature then those standards have to be followed. It said:

"In items like milk which is a primary food, under the Act, it is not necessary to also prove that the food item had become unfit for human consumption or injurious to health. In cases of food coming under the Act, it is not required to prove that article of food was injurious to health. In this case, the only question to be determined is whether the article complies with the standards laid down or not? If it fails to comply with the standards then it will have to be treated as an adulterated article even if it is not rendered injurious to health. Even marginal deviation from the prescribed standard cannot be ignored."

The bench also referred the judgment in State of Kerala vs. Parameswaran Pillai Vasudevan Nair which observed that the Act does not provide for exemption of marginal or border line variations of the standard from the operation of the Act. The bench observed:

In view of the above settled law, we hold that if the standards are not complied with, the Court is not justified in acquitting the accused charged with adulteration only on the ground that the deficiency is marginal.

Article 142 cannot be exercised in such a manner that they make a mockery of the law itself.

A request was also made before the Court to exercise powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India because the occurrence took place more than twenty years back. Rejecting the contention, the bench observed:

We are clearly of the view that the power under Article 142 cannot be exercised against the specific provision of law. Section 16(1)(a) of the Act lays down a minimum sentence of six months. Considering the bane of adulteration and the deleterious effect of adulteration and substandard food on the health of the citizens (especially children when milk is involved), the Legislature provided a minimum sentence of six months. Passage of time can be no excuse to award a sentence lower than the minimum.


Furthermore, the power under Article 142, in our considered view, cannot be used in total violation of the law. When a minimum sentence is prescribed by law, this Court cannot, in exercise of its power under Article 142, pass an order totally contrary to law. If such power could be used in a food adulteration case to impose a sentence lower than the minimum prescribed, then even in cases of murder and rape, this Court applying the same principles could impose a sentence less than the minimum. This, in our opinion, is not the purpose of Article 142. We have no doubt in our mind that powers under Article 142 cannot be exercised in such a manner that they make a mockery of the law itself.  

Powers Of Remission Cannot Be Exercised By Courts

Relying on a judgment in Santosh Kumar vs. Municipal Corporation, the bench was requested to order the State Government to commute the sentence under Section 433 CrPC. The bench, rejecting this plea also, said:

A bare perusal of Section 433 of Cr.PC shows that the powers under Section 433 can only be exercised by the appropriate Government. These powers cannot be exercised by any court including this Court. At best, the court can recommend to the State Government that such power may be exercised but the power of the appropriate Government cannot be usurped by the courts and the Government cannot be directed to pass 'formal compliance order'. We are, therefore, not inclined to pass a similar order because that is beyond the jurisdiction of this Court.

Click here to Read/Download Judgment

           

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