The Supreme Court Tuesday said that food articles which are harmful and injurious to public health had the potential of striking at the fundamental right to life guaranteed by the constitution and it was the government’s responsibility to take steps for protection of life and health.
“Enjoyment of life and its attainment, including right to life and human dignity encompasses, within its ambit availability of articles of food, without insecticide or pesticide residues, veterinary drugs residues, antibiotic residues, solvent residues, etc”, said a bench of Justice K.S.Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra in their judgment.
“But the fact remains, many of the food articles like rice, vegetables, meat, fish, milk, fruits available in the market contain insecticides or pesticides residues, beyond the tolerable limits, causing serious health hazards,” said Justice Radhakrishnan speaking for the bench.
“We notice fruit-based soft drinks, available in various fruit stalls, contain such pesticide residues in alarming proportion, but no attention is made to examine its contents.
“Children and infants are uniquely susceptible to the effects of pesticides because of their physiological immaturity and greater exposure to soft drinks, fruit based or otherwise,” the judgment said.
“We may emphasize that any food article which is hazardous or injurious to public health is a potential danger to the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” it noted.
It said a “paramount duty is cast on the state and its authorities to achieve an appropriate level of protection to human life and health which is a fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens under Article 21 read with Article 47” of the Constitution.
“We are, therefore, of the view that the provisions of the FSS Act and PFA Act and the rules and regulations framed there under have to be interpreted and applied in the light of the constitutional principles, and endeavour has to be made to achieve an appropriate level of protection of human life and health.”
It said authorities are “obliged to maintain a system of control and other activities as appropriate to the circumstances, including public communication on food safety and risk, food safety surveillance and other monitoring activities covering all stages of food business”.
The court directed the Food and Safety Standards Authority of India, to interact with their counterparts in all states and union territories and conduct periodical inspections and monitoring of major fruits and vegetable markets, so as to ascertain whether they conform to the set standards.
The court ruling came while disposing of the petition by NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking the setting up of an “independent expert/technical committee to evaluate the harmful effects of soft drinks on human health, particularly on the health of the children”.
The CPIL had further sought direction to the central government to “make it mandatory for the soft drinks manufacturers to disclose the contents and their specific quantity on the labels of soft drinks, including appropriate warnings, qua a particular ingredient, and its harmful effects on the people.”