The Supreme Court Thursday asked all states and union territories to file affidavits on the steps taken by them on curbing the production and sale of synthetic milk and prosecution of the offenders.A bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen also inquired about the steps taken by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Delhi to make provision for life imprisonment under the Indian Penal Code’s section 272 for producing and selling synthetic milk and other adulterated food.
Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha were the only states which have amended the section to provide for life imprisonment for food adulteration. At present, under the section, punishment for the sale of adulterated food or drink items attracts maximum imprisonment of six months, or a fine which may extend to Rs.1,000, or both.
Apparently displeased with the responses of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana and highlighting the seriousness of the issue, Justice Radhakrishnan said that for the last two years, he was taking black coffee.The court asked Uttar Pradesh to furnish the details of the prosecutions it had launched under the amended section 272 for those found involved in adulterating food articles, including manufacturing and selling synthetic milk.
The court’s direction came after counsel Anurag Tomar, appearing for petitioner Swami Achyutanand Tirath of Haridwar-based Bhuma Niketan Ashram, told the court that though there were 52 and 22 cases of synthetic milk in the state during 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively, but in none was prosecution launched under the section. He said it was an admitted position in the Uttar Pradesh government’s affidavit.
Tomar contended that ‘apathy and inaction’ of the central and the state governments in taking ‘effective and necessary’ measures in curbing the sale of synthetic (chemically prepared) and adulterated milk was violative of the fundamental right to life guaranteed under article 21 of the constitution.Noting that three states have amended section 272 to increase sentence for food adulteration to life imprisonment, the court, in the last hearing on Dec 5, 2013, had said: ‘Considering the seriousness of the offence, it is important that similar amendments are to be made in other states as well.’
The court impleaded all the states in the matter after Additional Solicitor General Rakesh Khanna told it that the central government has received responses from 27 states and was awaiting response from four to five others.The court by its Dec 5 order had asked the central government as well as the Food Safety Authority to also file a detailed affidavit of the number of cases they have come across with regard to adding synthetic materials to milk and milk products and ‘what action various states have taken after they have detected such adulteration’.
Giving three weeks time to the central and state government to file their replies, the court directed the listing of the matter Feb 20.