Gauhati High Court| Only Food Inspectors can investigate offences under the FSS Act; Rs 2 Lakhs cost imposed on Maharashtra Police for seizing goods from Gauhati factory

Gauhati High Court

Gauhati High Court: Rumi Kumari Phookan J. held that Maharashtra Police neither had the jurisdiction nor the authority to investigate offences under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act) only a food inspector has the authority to investigate such offences. Hence, the court directed Maharashtra Police to pay Rs 2,00,000/- to the petitioner as a cost to the petition.

Facts of the case

The petitioner, Dharampal Satyapal Ltd., is a company incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956, having its registered office in New Delhi. The petitioner had been granted a license under the FSS Act, to manufacture pan-masala, which is classified as a food product.

An FIR was registered against Md. Imran Mohammed Hanif under Sections 188, 272, 273 and 328 of the Penal Code (IPC) in possession of Rajanigandha pan-masala, Scented Tobacco and Baba Nabaratan pan-masala, etc. which are prohibited items of food, given the notification issued by the Commissioner of FSS and Drug Administration, Maharashtra, dated 20.07.2019. As the investigation proceeded, stocks of pan-masala and tobacco were recovered from the accused. After this, the respondent visited the petitioner’s factory at Bamunimaidam, Guahati, and forcibly seized the entire machinery and articles from the factory and prepared a seizure list (panchnama).

Contentions

The petitioner contended that the respondent had no jurisdiction and power to seize the factory and other articles as they had not contravened any law in Solapur, Maharashtra as well the petitioner had the license to produce pan-masala, given by the appropriate authority.

The respondent contended that the search and seizure done by the respondent were by the law. Further, the respondent submitted that the petitioner stored and sold the product manufactured by the petitioner in Maharashtra which was prohibited under the notification issued under the FSS Act

Analysis, Law, and Decision

First, the court referred to Sections 41 and 42 of the FSS Act, according to which Section 41 prescribes that Food and Safety Officer have the power to search and seize food articles and Section 42 prescribes that the Food and Safety Officer is responsible for inspection of food business, drawing samples and sending the same to the food analyst for analysis and thereafter can launch the prosecution in an appropriate case.

Further, the court was of the view that provisions of Section 4(2) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), all offences under any other law shall be dealt with under the enactment regulating the manner of investigation and trial, etc. and hence, FSS being a complete statute, has an overriding effect as a Special Act to deal with such food items.

At this juncture, the court relied on the judgment given in the case of Christy Fried Gram Industry v. State of Karnataka, 2016 Cri LJ 482, wherein the court held that for initiation of proceedings regarding the manufacture and supply of food to the general public are regulated under FSS Act in complete mechanism is provided under the said Act to deal with the cases concerned with the food-related laws. Section 29 of the said Act specifies the authorities responsible for enforcement of the Act and Section 30 specifies the Commissioner of Food and Safety as a competent authority to implement the provision of the Act effectively.

Noting that, in the case at hand, the fundamental right of the petitioner to carry out the lawful business has been hampered for such illegal conduct on the part of the investigating officer, the Court observed that

“The petitioner herein without there being any criminal culpability has been thrown to utter hardship and inconvenience by seizure of building as well as the article valued more than crores of rupees thereby the petitioner has been compelled to run a legal battle consuming time, energy and heavy cost while continuing such litigation before the High Court.”

Therefore, the Court held that the investigation carried out by the investigating officer was beyond its jurisdiction under the law and directed the respondent to release all the seized articles to the petitioner and pay Rs 2,00,000/- as a cost to the petition.

[Dharampal Satyapal Ltd. v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine Gau 943, decided on 16-06-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Dr. A. Saraf, Senior Advocate, for the Petitioner;

Mr. RKD Choudhury, Advocate and Mr. M. Phukan, P.P., Assam, Advocate, for the Respondent.

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