Food Safety and Standards Act

Supreme Court: In an appeal challenging order passed by the Division Bench of Allahabad High Court on 5-10-2010, surrounded on the interplay between the provisions of Chapter IX of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (‘FSSA’) and Sections 272 and 273 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), the Division Bench of Abhay S. Oka* and Sanjay Karol, JJ. clarified that FSSA had an overriding effect on other laws. Therefore, the Court quashed and set aside the impugned order.

On 11-05-2010, the State govt. issued an order empowering the authorities to initiate prosecutions under Sections 272 and 273 of IPC as well as under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (‘PFA’). On 28-08-2010, a First Information Report (‘FIR’) was lodged by a food inspector representing the Regional Food Controller against the appellant alleging that he continued to carry on with the business of selling commodity of mustard oil in the absence of a license and adulterated the mustard oil, edible oil and rice bran oil. The appellant filed a petition under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (‘CrPC’) seeking to quash prosecution for offences punishable under Sections 272 and 273 of IPC. However, the same was dismissed by the High Court.

The appellant relied on Pepsico India Holdings (Pvt) Limited v. State of U.P., 2010 SCC OnLine All 1708 before the High Court, which is a subject matter of challenge in an appeal before the Supreme Court. The High Court in that case held that police had no authority or jurisdiction to investigate a case under the FSSA, and that after FSSA came into effect from 29-10-2010, it would have an overriding effect on other food-related laws, including PFA.

The Court took note of the fact that all provisions except Section 22 of FSSA were in force as on 29-07-2010, while the appeals were registered after that date. The Court highlighted that the statement of objects and reasons of FSSA explicitly mention that multiplicity of food laws creates confusion, being detrimental to nascent food processing industry, and that FSSA was enacted to consolidate laws relating to food, being a comprehensive legislation on all aspects of food.

The Court perused Section 3 (zz) of FSSA defining unsafe food and commented that “the concept of unsafe food is more comprehensive than the concept of adulterated food. Unsafe food means an article of food whose nature, substance or quality is so affected as to render it injurious to health.” The Court further hinted towards Sections 3(zx) and 3(a), 48(1) to conclude that “if a person knows that a particular article of food is being offered for sale or distribution for human consumption and adds any adulterant to the food, he renders the food article injurious to health.”

The Court clarified that the provisions keep no scope for defense of accused being mistaken but having reasonable belief regarding facts which constituted the offence. The Court pointed towards Section 59 of FSSA regarding punishment for unsafe food, ranging from 3-month imprisonment to imprisonment for life with fine (3 lakh to 10 lakh). It further perused Section 272 for adulteration of food or drink intended for sale, highlighting the element of intention, and Section 273 for sale of noxious food or drink, hinting towards ‘knowledge or reasonable belief’. The Court expressed that “Section 59 of the FSSA does not require the presence of intention as contemplated by Section 272 of the IPC.”

The Court concluded that there were “exhaustive substantive and procedural provisions in the FSSA for dealing with offences concerning unsafe food.” It further referred to Section 89 of FSSA regarding overriding effect of the Act over other food related laws and commented that “in the main Section, there is no such restriction confined to ‘food ­related laws’, and it is provided that provisions of the FSSA shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force.”

The Court explained that “The settled law is that if the main Section is unambiguous, the aid of the title of the Section or its marginal note cannot be taken to interpret the same. Only if it is ambiguous, the title of the Section or the marginal note can be looked into to understand the intention of the legislature. Therefore, the main Section clearly gives overriding effect to the provisions of the FSSA over any other law in so far as the law applies to the aspects of food in the field covered by the FSSA.”

The Court found that in the instant case when offence under Sections 272 and 273 was made out, offence under Section 59 of FSSA would be attracted. It expressed that “We have no manner of doubt that by virtue of Section 89 of the FSSA, Section 59 will override the provisions of Sections 272 and 273 of the IPC. Therefore, there will not be any question of simultaneous prosecution under both the statutes.”

The Court therefore allowed the two appeals and set aside the impugned orders, quashed and set aside the offences and kept the authorities at liberty to initiate appropriate proceedings as per law, FSSA in the instant matter.

[Ram Nath v. State Of Uttar Pradesh, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 177, decided on 21-02-2024]

Judgment by: Justice Abhay S. Oka

Know Thy Judge | Justice Abhay S. Oka – Harbinger of Social Change and Preserver of Administrative Accountability

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellant: Advocate on Record Garvesh Kabra, Advocate Abhishek Jaju, Advocate Pooja Kabra, Advocate Avanish Deshpande, Advocate on Record Ambhoj Kumar Sinha, Advocate Vinod Pandey, Advocate Priyadarshi Kumar, Advocate Yadunandan Bansal, Advocate Dr. Ravinder Kumar Singh, Advocate Ali Rahim, Advocate Shalini Jain, Advocate Mohsin Rahim

For Respondent: Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, Advocate on Record Dheeraj Nair, Advocate Kumar Kislay, Advocate Avni Sharma, Advocate Ridhima Sharma, Advocate Ajay Sabharwal, Advocate Ashita Chawla, Advocate on Record Niranjana Singh, Advocate on Record Siddharth Singla, Senior Additional Advocate General Ardhendumauli Kumar Prasad, Advocate on Record Vishnu Shankar Jain, Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, Advocate Abhishek Singh, Advocate Nachiketa Joshi, Advocate Navanjay Mahapatra, Advocate Sucheta Joshi, Advocate Himadri Haksar, Advocate T.S. Sabarish, Advocate on Record Gurmeet Singh Makker, Advocate on Record Vishwa Pal Singh, Advocate on Record Himanshu Shekhar, Advocate Parth Shekhar, Advocate Ambali Vedasen, Advocate Shubham Singh, Advocate Jamnesh Kumar, Advocate Tarun Bajaj, Advocate Rachna Ranjan, Advocate Dr. Mahesh Y Reddy, Advocate Sameer Mehndiratta, Advocate Rajat Sinha Roy, Advocate Darshan Chandrakant Siddarkar, Advocate Monica Haseja, Advocate N. Chandra Sekar

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