Madras High Court orders interim ban on sale of edible oil in loose packets; suggests punishing food adulterers under Goondas Act

The Court has also opined that those involved in such adulteration should be punished as "Goondas" under the Tamil Nadu Goondas Act, 1982.
Madras High Court orders interim ban on sale of edible oil in loose packets; suggests punishing food adulterers under Goondas Act
OilImage source: Food Navigator Asia

The Madras High Court on Friday passed an interim order banning the sale of edible oil in loose packets, in view of concerns that such oil is being widely adulterated (S Arunnithy v. Chief Executive Officer, FSSAI and ors).

The Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi passed the order on a PIL seeking directions to ensure that edible oil being sold complies with the standards put in place by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

After hearing submissions for the petitioner by Senior Advocate Veera Kathiravan, the Court held:

"Since the learned Senior Counsel has made out a prima facie case that the edible oils sold on loose are mostly adulterated, it would have serious consequences on the health of the consumers and there is a specific provision under the Food Safety Regulations prohibiting sale of edible oils on loose, this Court is satisfied to grant an interim order. Accordingly, there shall be an order of interim injunction directing the respondents not to allow, in any way, the sale of edible oil as loose oil. "

Terming the data before it concerning the adulteration of edible oil as shocking, the Court has also opined that those involved in such adulteration, including manufacturers, distributors and sellers, should be punished as Goondas under the Tamil Nadu Goondas Act, 1982.

Among other practices, the Court was apprised that adulterated oil was being sold as Gingelly oil by mixing portions of cashew nut shell liquid and palmolein. The fact that the number of units extracting cashew nut shell liquid exceeded the volume exported drastically also indicated that the liquid is being used to adulterate edible oil, it was submitted.

The Court took a serious view of submissions that the liquid is known to adversely affect the Autonomic Nervous System and cause blurring of vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, bradycardia and hypotension (fall in blood pressure). In long term effects, the consumption of cashew nut shell liquid could also cause liver cell cancer, the Court was told.

The Court was further informed that a mixture of chemical peanut essence and olein oil is known to be sold as groundnut oil. Among other submissions, the Bench was told that the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 prohibit the re-use of tin and plastic containers to sell edible oil and fat. However, a proviso allows the State to exempt any oil from the application of this rule, by way of a gazette notification.

The Bench took note that this proviso has been taken advantage of by food adulterors as the State has permitted the sale of edible oil in loose packets even though it has not assigned any reasons for doing so.

Appearing for the State, Special Government Pleader J Padmavathi Devi told the Court that while there was a possibility of adulterated oil being sold in loose packets, the Safety Department is monitoring the same and taking appropriate action against adulterors. She, however, admitted that of the 194 samples examined recently, only 55 samples of oil was found to adhere to the standards imposed by the FSSAI.

Further the Designated Officer of the State's Food Safety Department at Madurai also told the Court that on inspection, he came across 60 to 200 cands of cashew nut shell liquid.

Observing that the State has a duty to ensure that people get unadulterated food, the Bench proceeded to take stock of the prevailing provisions punishing food adulteration. This included Section 59 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which punishes adulterers with imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 7 years.

Despite this provision, the Court observed that adulteration has not been prevented. Therefore, the Court has now asked the State to respond on why "Food Adulterors" should not be included within the definition of "Goonda" under the 1982 Goondas Act.

Why not the State Government amend the Act 14 of 1982 to include “Food Adulterator” in the definition of “Goonda” and detain them under the Act, when food adulteration causes serious health hazards to the common people?
Madras High Court

This apart, the Bench has also sought a response from the State on the following, among other, queries:

  • When the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction of Sales) Regulation, 2011, prohibits sale of edible oils on loose, how are the edible oils allowed to be sold as loose oils?

  • Explain the health effects of adulterated oil mixtures such as cashew nut shell liquid with palmolein (sold as gingelly oil) and peanut essence with olein oil would (sold as groundnut oil).

  • How many labs are available for testing in Tamil Nadu, both Government labs and Private labs and how many labs are available in other States?

  • How many tests have been carried out on edible oils? How many test reports showed the presence of cashew nut shell extract, Peanut Essence and / or any other mixtures, if any?

  • What is the action taken as against the adulterators / offenders? How many cases have been registered in the past five years? What is the conviction rate?

The matter has been posted to be taken up next on January 18, 2021.

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