Expressing serious concern over adulteration of milk and dairy products, the Supreme Court said “stringent measures”, including amending the Food Safety and Standards Act and making it a penal offence, are needed to “combat” the menace.
Referring to earlier orders, the bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said, “It will be in order, if Union of India considers making suitable amendments in penal provisions at par with the provisions contained in the state amendments to the IPC. It is also desirable that Union of India revisits the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 to revise punishment for adulteration making it more deterrent in cases where the adulterant can have an adverse impact on health.”
The bench, also comprising Justices R Banumathi and U U Lalit, referred to the amendments made by some states like West Bengal, Odisha in the IPC, enhancing jail term to the imprisonment for life with or without fine for the offence of food adulteration.
The court, while issuing a slew of guidelines to curb milk adulteration, said infants are “traditionally” fed milk and hence, stringent steps are needed.
“Union of India and the state governments shall take appropriate steps to implement Food Safety and Standards Act in a more effective manner,” it said.
It asked the states to take steps to inform “owners of dairy, dairy operators and retailers” that if chemical adulterants like pesticides, caustic soda and other chemicals are found in milk, then stringent action will be taken against them.
The verdict, written by Justice Banumathi, asked the State Food Safety Authority (SFSA) to identify “high risk areas” where chances of milk adulteration are more during festivals.
“SFSA should also ensure that there is adequate lab testing infrastructure and ensure that all labs have/obtain NABL accreditation to facilitate precise testing. The state governments should to ensure that state food testing laboratories/district food laboratories are well-equipped with the technical persons and testing facilities,” it said.
“For curbing milk adulteration, an appropriate state level committee headed by the Chief Secretary or the Secretary of Dairy Department and District level Committee headed by the concerned District Collector shall be constituted as is done in the state of Maharashtra to take the review of the work done to curb the milk adulteration in the district and in the state by the authorities,” it said.
It asked the states to set up a website, specifying the functioning and responsibilities of food safety authorities and also creating awareness about complaint mechanisms, to prevent adulteration of milk.
The websites, which will have contact details of the Joint Commissioners including the Food Safety Commissioners, would register such complaints.
“States should also maintain toll-free telephonic and on-line complaint mechanism,” the verdict said.
To increase consumer awareness about ill effects of milk adulteration, the general public should be informed about the nature of risk to health and create awareness of food safety and standards, it said.
School children should be educated school by conducting workshops and teaching them easy methods for detection of common adulterants in food, keeping in mind indigenous technological innovations, such as milk adulteration detection strips, it said.
It also asked the Centre to evolve a complaint mechanism for “checking corruption and other unethical practices of the food authorities and their officers”.
The verdict came on a PIL filed by Swami Achyutanand Tirth highlighting the menace of growing sale of adulterated and synthetic milk in different parts of the country.