National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): While considering the instant complaint instituted by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India seeking to prevent Nestle from undertaking any unwanted manufacturing activity of Maggi Masala Noodles and Maggie Oats Noodles and other variants with the alleged deceptive labelling of “No Added MSG”, as these commodities are likely to jeopardize the general health conditions of people who consume these products extensively; the Bench of A.P. Sahi, J., (President) dismissed the complaint on the ground that neither the violation of the advisory dated 11-05-2013 nor the violation of the provisions of either the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, or any ingredient under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, has been established in the instant complaint. It was noted that the scientific analysis and the clarifications issued by the Government itself did not indict Nestle India, therefore, there is no material to support the allegations made in the complaint so as to proceed any further.

Background and Legal Trajectory: The Department of Consumer Affairs brought a consumer complaint against Nestle India, alleging presence of lead in the products of Nestle India; deceptive labelling by prominently printing “No added MSG” on the packaging of the noodles, which is an unfair trade practice and in contravention of the provisions of Consumer Protection Act apart from violating the Food Safety and Security Act 2006 and the Rules and Regulations framed thereunder  as well as Food Safety and Standard Acts, 2008 and as well as Food Safety Packaging and Labelling Regulations 2011.

The product in question in the instant complaints is Maggi Noodles and its variants which are consumed by many Indian citizens, especially children. The Government alleged that the products in question which are advertised, marketed, and sold by Nestle India is hazardous food stuff, which has been misbranded, thereby alluring the consumers, particularly children who consume the said product on being deceptively led to believe that it is healthy and safe.

On 11-05-2013, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, issued guidelines/ advisory that are to be followed for product approval procedure. In consonance with the advisory, Nestle India in August 2014 moved an application seeking product approval for Maggi Oats Noodles.

Meanwhile the afore-stated advisory dated 11-05-2013 was challenged before Bombay High Court, wherein the Court’s Full Bench quashed the advisory and any action or obligation under the said advisory was no longer permissible. The Court’s order attained finality upon FSSAI’s compliance, therefore making the advisory inoperative.

Despite the aforesaid ruling by the Bombay High Court, it appeared that some action for violation of the provisions of the Food Safety and Standard Regulations were sought to be taken against Nestle on the basis of certain analysis made of the food products manufactured by them throughout the country. These analyses revealed significant amount of Lead content in the product.

This led to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India to pass an order on 05-06-2015 calling upon Nestle to withdraw and recall all the 9 approved variants of its Maggi instant noodles from the market, carry out the rectification of the labelling of “no added MSG”, and to withdraw the food product Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with Tastemaker within 24 hrs.

Furthermore, Nestle was issued a show cause notice regarding product approval of the 9 variants of Maggi Noodles. On its part, Nestle India, on that very day when show cause notice was issued, released a press note declaring withdrawal of all its products from the shelves and then it went on to challenge the afore-mentioned order of 05-06-2015. Based on Nestle’s voluntary act of withdrawing all its products, Bombay High Court put a stay on cancellation of approval of Nestle’s product.

At this juncture, the Department of Consumer Affairs instituted the instant complaint on 11-08-2015 urging that the company via express misrepresentation, deceptive activities and utilisation of possibly hazardous substances in its products, has indulged in manufacturing and selling of its products, which are not only unsafe health wise but are also a violation of the laws that have made to protect consumers. The matter even reached the Supreme Court wherein it directed that samples of Nestle’s Maggi Noodles be sent to CFTRI Lab, for analysis and leaving it open to the NCDRC to evaluate the said report and then proceed accordingly.  

Commission’s Assessment and Conclusions:

The Commission pointed out that the instant Complaint was filed in the background when Nestle had already withdrawn its products and had challenged the orders issued by the FSSAI before Bombay High Court.

The Commission further noted that the report by CFTRI, which categorically records that the content of Lead was within permissible limits, has not been challenged by either of the parties. Therefore, the issue of the alleged presence of lead in so far as it relates to the instant complaint, was closed.

The Commission noted that the complaint was made for the ultimate welfare of the citizens who continue to consume Maggi Noodles that are undoubtedly very popular. The very extensive consumption of such food products particularly by children therefore has to be safe and non-hazardous. The Commission further noted that the initial facts that gave rise to the proceedings was clearly an attempt to secure the health and safety of consumers. However, this is subject to the rule of law and a complaint cannot be or intended for causing any undue harassment to a product manufacturer.

The Commission pointed out that when it comes to a Consumer Complaint, it has to be viewed from the point of the purpose for which Consumer Protection Act has been framed, i.e., protection of consumers against any such deficiency in the products or its consequential hazards on consumption.

Vis-à-vis “no added MSG” labelling, the Commission pointed out that clarification issued by the Government on 31-03-2016 which states that presence of MSG or otherwise can be checked through investigation of the manufacturing premises, and proceedings may be launched against any food business operator only when MSG is actually found to be present in the food stuff thereby establishing that MSG flavour enhancer was deliberately added during the course of manufacture. This clarification was clearly in relation to the labelling of “no added MSG” on the packets which was further fortified by the clarification dated 24-09-2018.

Based on CFTRI’s report and afore-stated clarifications issued by the Authority, the Commission held that there is neither any deficiency of service nor any unfair trade practice established against Nestle. Furthermore, this also cannot be a ground to raise a complaint as per the provisions of Section 22(4) of the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006.

[Union of India v. Nestle India Ltd., 2024 SCC OnLine NCDRC 33, decided on 02-04-2024]

*Order by Justice AP Sahi, President

Appearing for the parties-

Complainant-

VIKRAMJIT BANERJEE, LD. ASG

MUKUL SINGH, CGSC

SIDDHARTHA SINHA, ADVOCATE

IRA SINGH, ADVOCATE

PRASHANT RAWAT, ADVOCATE

Opposite Parties-

HARISH SALVE, SR. ADVOCATE

AMIT SIBAL, SR. ADVOCATE

RAVINDER NARAIN, ADVOCATE

RAJESH BATRA, ADVOCATE

SIDDHARTH BANTHIA, ADVOCATE

SMARIKA SINGH, ADVOCATE

SAIFUR REHMAN, ADVOCATE

SARIM KHAN, ADVOCATE

SONIA KUKREJA, ADVOCATE

ROHIT CHANDRA, ADVOCATE

DARPAN SACHDEVA, ADVOCATE

RISHABH SHARMA, ADVOCATE

ARJUN RANA, ADVOCATE

Must Watch

maintenance to second wife

bail in false pretext of marriage

right to procreate of convict

Criminology, Penology and Victimology book release

Join the discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.